March Madness tips tonight!


No, don’t worry your brackets probably aren’t due yet.

Tonight’s action is more than your usual Play-In variety. While we do have the usual suspects, this time around the “First Four” includes some big boy programs too. In addition to the four lowest rated teams (UTSA, UALR, Alabama St and UNC Asheville) the “First Four” includes the last four At-Large teams as well.

Alabama Birmingham and Clemson play tonight at 9pm EST with the winner advancing to play West Virginia on Thursday. The selection of UAB has been under fire with teams like Virginia Tech and Colorado getting left out. The Blazers boast only one win vs RPI top 50 and lost to lowly East Carolina in their conference tournament. Clemson is led by the veteran backcourt of Andre Young and Demontez Stitt and should advance to play West Virginia. Tomorrow, Southern California takes on Virginia Commonwealth with the winner advancing to meet Georgetown.

Here are some interesting tidbits from the last 15 March Madness tournaments. (since 1996)

-1 Fewest #1 seeds in the Final Four (twice)

-1 Number of Final Fours without a top seed

-2 Most Championships. (UNC, Duke, Kentucky, Connecticut and Florida)

-3 Number of Final Four appearances by Kansas

-3 Number of #5 seeds, or lower, making it to Final Four

-5 Number of Final Fours with only one #1 seed participating.

-6 Most Final Four appearances: Michigan State and UNC

-33 Number of different schools appearing in Sweet 16

-35 Number of #9 seeds, or lower, advancing to Sweet 16

The 8 vs 9 game truly is a toss up, split 30-30

Most Sweet 16 apperances?

9 Kentucky and Kansas

8 Arizona

7 UNC and Syracuse

6  Texas

Finally, 10 different schools have been crowned champion.

If you need a handy TV guide, here you go!

March Madness: SouthEast Regional

The SouthEast Regional will culminate with the finals at the New Orleans Arena. Early round games will take place in Washington DC, Tuscon, Tampa and Denver.

While the Eastern Regional is without a doubt the strongest, the SouthEast Regional is by far the weakest. Pittsburgh was a suprising top seed after faltering in the Big East tournament, Florida despite closing strong perhaps a bit high as a #2. It doesn’t end there, Brigham Young despite All-Everything Jimmer Fredette is not the same team after losing big man Brandon Davies to suspension and #4 Wisconsin doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of the nation’s elite.

Lets take a look at your bracket: (upsets in italics)

1st Round:

#1 Pittsburgh over Play In (TBA)- As is well documented a #1 seed has never lost to a #16 and this is a perfect example of why.  UNC-Asheville/Little Rock winner will be Panther meat.

#2 Florida over #15 UCSB- The Gators are one of my sleepers, clicking at right time UF may be Final Four bound. The Gauchos who upset Long Beach State to quaify= one and done.

#3 BYU over #14 Wofford- Cougars are not what they were, but Jimmer is too much for Wofford. The “Minnesota Mafia” closed strong and have senior leadership, but c’mon Fredette isn’t going out in 1st round.

#13 Belmont over #4 WisconsinUPSET ALERT Tough draw for Badgers, Belmont is the real deal!  The Badgers 33 points and  <30% shooting from the floor in Big 10 tourney loss to Penn State cannot be overlooked.

#5 Kansas State over #12 Utah State- Love the Wildcats, if they are on watch out!  Aggies in tourney for 3rd straight year, but veterans don’t have size to deal with the Wildcats.

#6 St. Johns over #11 Gonzaga- Great 1st round matchup, gotta go with Steve Lavin here. The Bulldogs dancing for 13th straight season, four times in the Sweet 16, not this time.

#10 Michigan State over #7 UCLA– Spartans were pre season Final Four favorite, expect them to step it up. Having a hard time forgetting the Bruins blowout loss to Oregon in Pac 10 tourney opener.

#9 Old Dominion over #8 Butler– Another great opening round matchup, no Cinderella this time around. The Bulldogs dancing for the 5th straight year aren’t the same team that lost to Duke  in finals a year ago.

2nd Round:

#1 Pittsburgh over #9 Old Dominion- Panthers are a deep, physical team that relies on defense and rebounding.  The Monarchs have similar strengths but not enough.

#2 Florida over #10 Michigan State- The Gators were one of the hottest teams down the stretch and look to rebound after a 1st round exit a year ago.  All five starters returned from a year ago and UF’s only potential achilles heel is free throw shooting.

#6 St. Johns over #3 BYU– The Red Storm has 10 seniors and is battle tested with a plethora of close wins in Big East play.  St. Johns beat Duke, Notre Dame and Pitt this season, but the injury to DJ Kennedy cannot be overlooked.

#5 Kansas State over #13 Belmont- Its the Jacob Pullen show in Manhattan.  K-State with marquee wins over Texas and Kansas but are inconsistent at times, especially shooting the ball. This may be a close one as Belmont is the sleeper of the tourney.

Southest Semfinals:

#5 Kansas State over #1 PittsburghUPSET ALERT I am going to go with the upside of K-State.  Pullen, the Big12 defensive player of the year is also a big time scorer. 6’8″ senior forward Curtis Kelly adds a nice option for Wildcat coach Frank Martin.

#2 Florida over #6 St. Johns- I am having difficulty with this matchup as they are two clubs that I really like to go deep in tournament. The difference in the end may be the absence of injured Red Storm swingman Kennedy.

Southeast Final:

#2 Florida over #5 Kansas State- If Pittsburgh does in fact go down early, its all Florida. The Gators are led by tournament tested coach Billy Donovan and the senior frontcourt.  SEC player of the year Chandler Parsons may lead them back in the Final Four.

Tomorrow we will handicap the Southwest Regional.

March Madness: East Regional Primer


Without a doubt, the East is the toughest bracket, surprising since its where #1 overall seed Ohio State resides.

Opening round games take place in Cleveland, Tampa and Charlotte with the regional finals in Newark.

Parity is the word in the 2011 tournament, which explains why many of the  6-11, 7-10 and 8-9 games are virtual pick ’ems in Vegas.

First round matchups:

#1 Ohio State vs Play In– Ohio State will “tatoo” their yet to be determined opponent.

#8 George Mason vs #9 Villanova– Arguably best 1st round matchup, GMU is pick here as Villanova continues slide.  The Wildcats lost ten of fifteen down the stretch.

#5 West Va vs Play In– West Virginia a lock for 2nd round.

#4 Kentucky vs #13 Princeton– Discipline vs Athleticism, UK pulls away  in 2nd half.  The buzzer beater over Harvard will seem a distant memory after the beat down by the ‘cats.

#6 Xavier vs #11 Marquette– Super sleeper Xavier should prevail vs Big East tested Marquette.  The Golden Eagles led the Big East in scoring, but Xavier is more physical and will own the boards.

#3 Syracuse vs #14 Indiana State– Orangemen with pass to 2nd round. Sycamores are very deep but also very small.

#7 Washington vs #10 Georgia- Washington has experience (Sweet 16 appearance a year ago) but UGA has size and athleticism, Dawgs upset Huskies.

#2 UNC vs # 15 Long Island– Cinderella story doesn’t last long vs Tar Heels.

2nd round projections:

#1 Ohio State vs #8 George MasonUpset Alert! Do the Patriots have what it takes to make another magical run to the Final Four? Absolutely,  the inside outside duo of Cam Long and Ryan Pearson led GMU on a sixteen game regular season win streak and have what it takes to shock the #1 overall seed.

#4 Kentucky vs #5 West Virginia– Underachieving Lexington kids bounced by Huggins’ crew. The Mountaineers who beat Notre Dame, Georgetown and Purdue during the regular season add another giant to their resume.

#3 Syracuse vs #6 Xavier– Orange zone shuts down X inside game.  Syracuse won 18 straight to start the season and get it done with defense. Orange opponents were held under 60 points eighteen times this season.

#2 UNC vs #10 Georgia– Tar Heels too much to handle for inconsistent UGA. Freshman Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall have keyed the Heels resurgence from early season struggles.

Regional Semi-Finals:

#5 West Virginia vs #8 George Mason– This one is actually a toss up in my mind with slight edge to the Mountaineers.  WVU is deadly from deep perimeter and tested from last season’s run to the Final Four.

#2 UNC vs #3 Syracuse– Two of my favorites going into the tourney, going to go with emerging freshman 5-star center Fab Melo and the ‘cuse.  Orange have been on a mission since last season’s regional semi loss to Cinderela Butler.

East Regional Final:

#3 Syracuse vs #5 West Virginia– On to the Final Four for Jim Boeheim, love that zone defense!  ‘Cuse depth too much for Mountaineers who are not as deep as last year’s Final Four team.

Tomorrow, we will take a look at the Southeast regional.

The BCS of College Hoops (RPI)

What if College Basketball used RPI in the same way College Football uses the BCS?

For those wondering, RPI stands for Ratings Percentage Index, which is a quantity used to rank teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule.

The BCS has been under fire since its inception in 1998. Many prefer a playoff system which is used almost exclusively in college sports, except for Division I college football. I thought we should take a look at what Selection Sunday might look like if it was based soley on RPI. The numbers are obviously fluid, as all contenders are currently embroiled in conference tournaments.

It would not be fair to take a look at simply the top 68 as nearly half the bids will go to automatic quaifiers from conference tournaments, most of which never break the RPI elite. For now, lets just look at the projected Sweet 16, based simply on RPI. As a bonus, for fun, potential NBA prospects for the 2011 draft will be noted next to their team to keep your fantasy fire going.

East Regional: Prudential Center,  Newark, NJ

1- DukeKylie  Irving PG, Nolan Smith G, Kyle Singler SF, Mason Plumlee PF

2- Brigham YoungJimmer Fredette SG

3- WisconsinJon Leuer PF, Jordan Taylor PG

4- GeorgetownAustin Freeman SG

Southeast Regional: New Orleans Arena, NOLA

1- Ohio StateJared Sullinger PF, William Buford SG, David Lighty SG, Deshaun Thomas SF

2- PurdueJaJuan Johnson PF. E’twaun Moore G

3- PittsburghBrad Wanamaker G

4- SyracuseRick Jackson PF, Kris Joseph SF, Fab Melo C

Southwest Regional: Alamodome, San  Antonio, TX

1- KansasMarcus Morris SF, Markieff Morris PF,  Thomas Robinson PF, Josh Shelby PG, Tyshawn Taylor PG

2- Notre DameBen Hansbrough G

3- FloridaChandler Parson SF, Patric Young C, Kenny Boynton JR SG

4- ConnecticutKemba Walker PG, Alex Oriakhi C

West Regional: Honda Center, Anaheim, California

1- San Diego StateKawhi Leonard SF

2- North CarolinaHarrison Barnes SF, Tyler Zeller C, Reggie Bullock SF

3- KentuckyEnes Kanter C (Europe), Terrence Jones SF, Brandon Knight G, Doron Lamb SG

4- TexasTristan Thompson PF, Jordan Hamilton SG/SF, Cory Joseph PG

Next week, we will take a look at each of the regions to help you along with your March Madness brackets! Until then, enjoy a GREAT weekend of college basketball!

Selection Sunday Primer

If you are like me, the invites for March Madness brackets are beginning to trickle in.  I have several favorites that I participate in each year, including one with the family. Our family bracket awards the winner with a week free of chores!  If you aren’t invited by a friend, just about every sports site has a contest complete with prizes.

How do you fill out your bracket? I usually identify the four teams I feel will make it to the Final Four and fill in the blanks all the way to the national semifinals.  Who will make it to Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas next month?  We won’t know for sure until the tournament Selection Show on Sunday night. Projecting top seeds in advance is tricky business as there is alot of  guess work trying to figure out  which team will end up in each of the four regions. Neverthelss, here are the four teams I like: Florida, Ohio State, Kansas and North Carolina. Defending National Champion Duke may prove me wrong, but repeating is tough  business. My “sleeper” pick for the Final Four is Notre Dame.

The tournament is different this year. There are four first round games, a change from the play in game from 65 team fields in tournament’s past.  Now, we have 68 teams and the tournament tips off with the “first four”.  Not the throwaway type matchup that didn’t even make many brackets in the past, some real meat! Yes, the last four “at large” teams will face off with the two winners advancing, probably against #4 or #5 seeds.  Who might be the “at large” teams? Probably from the group of Virginia Tech, Alabama, Georgia, Michigan State, USC and Colorado. The four lowest ranked automatic qualifiers of the 68 will also meet in the other “first four” games with the winners rewarded with #1 seeds next. The inaugural “first four” takes place Tuesday and Wednesday  in Dayton, Ohio.

When filling out brackets, many look for an “upset special”.  That’s great if you hit it, but when  you miss, you fall a pick below the rest of the pack. I usually fall victim to picking teams I like (Maryland) or from conferences I enjoy. Best news for me, the Terrapins won’t be participating unless they win the ACC tournament. Remember this, a #16 seed has NEVER beaten a #1 seed  since the  tournament expanded to 64 teams. Just how are the teams selected? The NCAA selection committee will be literally locked down in a hotel this weekend ranking the teams from 1-68. 30 bids will be awarded to conference tournament winners and another to the Ivy League regular season champion as they do not hold a tournament. The remaining 37 bids are “at large”, many of them going to conference regular season champions on down.

What to watch through the weekend?  By Thursday, all major conference tournaments will be underway. The automatic bids  rewarded to conference tournament winners this weekend, often time are taking away a spot from teams on the “bubble”, especially when there are upsets .  What is a “bubble team” you might ask? Those are the teams on the brink of making it… or not.  Who are some of these teams? Baylor, Nebraska, Memphis, Washington State and those mentioned as “first four” game candidates.

College basketball owns March and if you are going to fill out brackets next week, pay attention over the weekend.   Conference tournaments will be won and so will office  pool particpants who are taking notice.