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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The SSS 2008 NCAA Tournament Preview For Non-Psychics: West Region


Waxing poetic about how lovely the NCAA Tournament is seems a bit irrelevant at this point. Certainly "One Shining Moment" will provide a sort of grab-bag of sappiness at the end of the whole thing that will you make you go, "Man, I love March Madness," sigh while looking longingly into the middle distance and then go watch The Hills or something. Now is not the time for such nonsense. March Madness is great! Work sucks! Gus Johnson is so exciting! There, that's done with. What we all want right now is objective, cold-hearted analysis on which teams will prevail and how to win your office pools. I wholeheartedly hope you find something like that. Instead I offer my own brand of regional previews, based solely around enjoying the tournament as much as possible. I'd say "Enjoy" but that goes without saying this time of year.

Previously:
East Region

Today we go out West. Look for South and Midwest tomorrow and Thursday morning.

By the way, Awful Announcing has the first round announcers for each game, so check that out for Gus Johnson referential purposes in this preview.

1st Round Games
1) UCLA vs. 16) Mississippi Valley State: The outstanding Jim Varney, master of his craft, never made an "Ernest Goes To Hollywood" movie, but I would imagine the story of the Delta Devils' adventures this week should fill that void.

8) BYU vs. 9) Texas A & M: Probably the most boring first round match-up of closely matched seeds, there are gonna be a ton of dump downs and entry passes in this one with Trent Plaisted (BYU), Joseph Jones (A & M) and the Ghost of DeAndre Jordan (A & M) (and his 50 percent of actually showing up for a game). Both teams play solid defense but really struggle with shot-making at times. Man I'm pumped for this game.

5) Drake vs. 12) Western Kentucky: I'm not going to make a Love the Drake joke because everyone in the damn country, including human Ambien dispensers Seth Davis and Hubert Davis, has been making them all week. I think I was the first person lame enough to make this joke, so I feel as though it and I have come to the end of the road. We had a good run Love the Drake joke, no regrets. Anyway, this game would be a great Bracketbusters match-up, an event the Selection Committee apparently decided not to watch because they tried to recreate it. Drake is a really good team -- they are almost more "Butler" than Butler if that doesn't make your brain hurt -- but this will be a close game no matter what. The Hilltoppers (real nickname) are a like-minded team that can shoot the ball just like the Bulldogs. Their star is Courtney Lee, who is going to get his no matter what, but it'll come down to one other Hilltopper stepping up.

4) Connecticut vs. 13) San Diego: I'm excited for the Hasheem Thabeet vs. Gyno Pomare match-up which should decide who gets to be the challenger to Kenny George's title of "Guy Who Stumbles Into the Most Fouls." Generally it would be Pomare in a 8th round TKO, but Thabeet really showed me some uncoordination in the Big East tourney. Should be thrilling. There is a faint whiff of growing Torero support in this one but I'm not sure why. Yes, the Huskies struggled down the stretch but when you are more talented at every single position, you are probably going to win. I don't see Whale's Vagina scoring 60 points in this one and there's no way it dominates the inside against UConn like it did against Gonzaga.

6) Purdue vs. 11) Baylor: Thus begins this year's Pod of Dullness, the four teams (along with Xavier and Georgia, seen below) that make up the "pod" with the lowest quality of basketball. Lucky for me, I will be there Saturday in DC to see which squad can emerge from this trough of slop. Alcohol will surely be in the equation. This game should actually be somewhat entertaining despite being fairly meaningless in the overall scheme of this tournament. The Boilermakers are led by freshman Professor Frink Robbie Hummel but it will be their ball pressure of Baylor's outstanding quintet of guards, led by Curtis Jerrels, that decides this game. Purdue doesn't really have a rim protector so they need to keep all those fellas out of the lane and if they don't, at least stay at home on the shooters. I like Baylor to pull the upset and an Xavier-Baylor second round game actually doesn't sound so excruciating anymore.

3) Xavier vs. 14) Georgia: The Musketeers like to get after the ball on the defensive end and, on paper, it would seem the containment on Sundiata Gaines and Billy Humphrey (who is not, in fact, a cock-eyed optimist) is paramount to avoiding an upset. But in reality, the key for Xavier is going to be stopping God. The senior deity was the breakout performer for the Bulldogs in their amazing SEC Championship run. He has a strong right hand (Jesus) and a nice stroke from on high. Sean Miller needs to find a way to stop his drive-and-smite game and slow him down on offense like the Old Testament, and Arkansas, could not.

7) West Virginia vs. 10) Arizona: This is a Gus Johnson Special if there ever was one. But alas, we are stuck with Craig Bolerjack (real person) and Bob Wenzel. Surely those two nondescript folks will be all a twitter by Joe Alexander, Everyone's New Favorite White Guy, and his match-up with Chase Budinger. I'm not as concerned with that head-to-head match; it should be a wash and I don't see any way the Cats let Alexander go off. This one should come down to West Virginia getting consistent scoring from someone else to match Jerryd Bayless' production. If they can't get Jordan Hill, a guy the Mountaineers cannot match up with, in foul trouble, it'll be a long night but since he starts every game with two fouls (I think), that shouldn't be a problem.

2) Duke vs. 15) Belmont: Duke will either win this by 30 or lose. It's going to be an 80 possession game with at least 60 threes combined between the two teams and absolutely no semblance of a post player to be found. I'm dead serious when I say Belmont can win this game. They just need to hit about 15 threes and hope Duke hits about seven. But that's about as good a chance as any 15-seed can hope for, right? Again, another Gus Johnson Special. We need to get this man to DC ASAP. Although if we do, he might look like this by Saturday.

(Note: This is outstanding.)

To Watch For
Game You Should Really Want Gus Johnson Announcing- Yeah we already spoke about this. Turns out he's doing the Denver games, which includes the Michigan State/Temple/ Oral Roberts/ Pitt pod and the Washington State/ Winthrop/ Notre Dame/ George Mason pod. Not bad games for his greatness, especially because he has Mason. I trust him far better to call a potential Patriots upset than the punny creepiness of Jim Nantz.

Game You Should NOT Want Jim Nantz Announcing- Drake vs. Western Kentucky. Not that there is any way Nantz has ever watched/enjoyed Seinfeld -- he seems like a "Two And A Half Men" or "Mad About You" guy to me -- but I've gotta think he'd enlist up-and-coming comedian Seth Davis to help him out with some sweet Love the Drake puns. Plus if Western Kentucky wins, it'll be "And Western Kentucky has topped the first hill" or something vomit-inducing like that.

Thing That Will Get Stuck In Billy Packer's Craw- Something about BYU refusing to play on Sundays. Back in his day, "Mormon" was just another word for homosexual.

(Note: Nantz and Packer will be doing the Raleigh site with UNC's game, the Indiana-Arkansas game and the pod with Gonzaga/ Davidson/ Georgetown/ UMBC. So Kelvin Sampson and Josh Heytvelt, you're on notice.)

Most Ironic Commercial- Any Bud Light commercial during a West Virginia game. We all know West Virginia fans can't afford Bud Light.
/ducks

Talking Points That Will Make Your Brain Want To Die- Anything on the Coach K/Mike D'Antoni thing, even though the Suns don't even run that type of offense anymore. AJ Price as laptop stealer turned adopted son of Jim Calhoun will be popular too. Joe Alexander as the next coming of Larry Bird or, worst case scenario, Christ.

Second Round Match-Up That Would Give CBS Execs Creamed Jeans-West Virginia-Duke would be right up CBS' wheelhouse in terms of pure whiteness and asshole coaches to deify. They would definitely hide the Carlos Mencia commercials for that one.

Second Round Match-Up That Would Give Hoops Fans Creamed Jeans, CBS Execs Flaccidity- The aforementioned Baylor-Xavier game would be complete madness in terms of fun, guard-oriented basketball, but I think I speak for everyone when I say, I WANT ARIZONA-DUKE. Kevin O'Neill's gruffness with the media and deliberate, ball screen-laden offense wouldn't really boost the aesthetic value of a Duke/Coach K game that CBS would hope for, but there would be too much damn talent on that court to not be a classic.

Best NBA Prospect- Kevin Love is superdreamy but I think Russell Westbrook is going to be a damned assassin in the pros. I suppose Jerryd Bayless is a nice player too.

Best Latvian First Division Prospect- West Virginia's Jamie Smalligan is rumored to already have an offer to endorse Spilva, Latvia's leading provider of atrocious looking foods, when he graduates.

Most Likely Teabagging Scenario- Russell Westbrook will not leave Anaheim without embarrassing a Delta Devil.

Unexpectedly Hot Cheerleaders- In a region with UCLA, Georgia and Arizona, there's something oddly attractive about hooking up with a BYU cheerleader. And, of course, with some grit, determination and arcane legislative loopholes, you could hook up with all of the BYU cheerleaders.

(Note: If this page and the West Virginia "sports" "site," We Must Ignite This Couch, that contains it doesn't explain that state quite accurately, I don't know what would.)

Oh, And The Winner Of The Damn Thing- In a bracket that looks to heavily favor the chalk, if there is a half of a region that has the capability of producing a really weird Elite Eight participant, it's the bottom half of the West. I wouldn't be surprised if any of the top six seeds down there make the regional final against UCLA, which could have a tough game against UConn in the Sweet 16. The Bruins go to the Final Four and I still like them to win it all.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday's Picks: CAA, MAAC, West Coast and Southern Conference Championships


Because the best way to feign actual knowledge on a subject is an accurate prediction, I introduce The Picks. Every weekday, Monday-Thursday (hopefully) I will pick the televised games of the night, against the spread of course, and follow the results to see if I actually know something about basketball. The results should be both entertaining (for readers) and soul-crushing (for me). And if I'm wrong, I'll just do what all the TV "experts" do: never bring it up again and avoid all accountability. And since I won't be betting actual money (that often), I win every time!

I'll also be occasionally picking against one of my roommates, Craig, so we can have a rational method of settling all disputes involving rent, household matters, etc.


Last Night: If Illinois State had just hung tough with Drake and lost by like 12 or so, the Redbirds would probably still feel pretty safe about getting an at-large bid. But instead, in a performance that probably earned the Bulldogs thousands of Sweet 16 trips in brackets across the country (and was one of the most efficient beatdowns I've seen this year), Illinois State lost by 30 to Drake (-2.5) and is suddenly a conference runner-up that got three shots at its league champion and blew them all. I know margin of victory isn't supposed to be a big deal but when you are barely every on TV and need to impress a selection committee, losing by 30 must leave a bad taste. On the other hand, when Love The Drake references start flying around your office in a couple weeks because of that game, don't forget who loved the Drake way back in mid-January. That was an incredible performance yesterday.

Metro-Atlantic, Rider vs. Siena (-3)- I'm getting the sense that Vegas has no idea how to handicap some of these conference tourney games. I suppose there is no reason to put too much time into it because anyone betting on the MAAC final will probably be dead in a few months anyway. I swear every game I've seen has been a 2.5 spread. Anyway these are the top two teams in the league and both are much better than your usual MAAC champ. Whichever team wins is going to scare some No. 3 seed in a couple weeks. Initially this looked like it would be a very high-scoring, very fast-paced game between two teams with very good athletes, but it might be toned down a bit with this being the third game in three nights and both teams sporting short benches. This one is worth watching for no other reason that Rider's Jason Thompson, a 7-footer that will be in the NBA soon. In the semis he played every minute, dropping 32 and 18 against Marist (he's average 20 and 12 on the year). The Saints lack the size to keep Thompson in check but have a three-headed monster of mismatches elsewhere. Edwin Ubiles, Kenny Hasbrouck and Alex Franklin are as good of a Big Three in mid-major basketball and lead a very efficient, very skilled offense that has won at Stanford this season. The teams split two regular season meetings, winning on each others courts and I think Thompson will go off. But you win these type of games by making the least mistakes and the surehanded Saints, will have their three stars trump Rider's one NBAer.
The Pick: Siena

CAA, William and Mary vs. George Mason (-8.5)- As someone who "covered" the CAA in college, there were a range of reactions to yesterday's outstanding semifinals. First, VCU is again the league's best shot at a deep tourney run and it was a shame to see them lose yesterday and probably get left out of the Dance. But, for a team like William and Mary, which has done such a great job of rebuilding a long-struggling program, to have a chance at March Madness is pretty neat as well. And of course, for George Mason to get another crack at the Tournament, especially for Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, two outstanding seniors that have been to the Final Four, is all well and good too. Not sure who I'll be rooting for but I might curl up with a pint of Haagen Daaz to suppress all my emotions for this one. Anyway, this is the fourth game in four days for the Tribe and it just so happens to be against one of the most tourney-tested teams in mid-major basketball. I wouldn't bet against George Mason as a favorite in Richmond if Tony Skinn was checking their jockstraps before the game (he is not a gentle person when it comes to that region). I actually like how W & M matches up with the Patriots, especially with the Thomas v. Laimis Kuselius match-up up front, but I just don't see how they have the energy to keep this one close against a great George Mason team with a rabid fanbase.
The Pick: George Mason

Southern Conference, Elon vs. Davidson (-17)- Well everyone expected Davidson to be here, with its now 22 conference wins this year, but the No. 7 seed Phoenix, who have caught fire and won three straight nights in Charleston are a big surprise. It's a welcome surprise for Bubble teams around the country who need Davidson to make sure the SoCon is a one-bid league. If the Wildcats were to somehow lose, they would right there with Illinois State and VCU as the most perilous of Bubble teams. The large spread indicates that shouldn't be an issue. But covering might be. Davidson only beat Elon by 10 at home this year and by two on the road. The Phoenix held the Cats to its second and seventh lowest offensive efficiency ratings of the year, with the other five lowest coming to Duke, UCLA, UNC, Charlotte and NC State. Eighth-grader Stephen Curry had 36 in the home meeting but just 15 when going on the road against Elon. The Phoenix play a lot of guys, despite being in the bottom 50 teams in D-I in tempo. When you see them you will expect a sharpshooting squad but they are among the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation. Their "strength" is down low with two 6-8 forwards, one of which, Ola Atoyebi, is their leading scorer and rebounder. Davidson will win pretty easily and I'm gonna be watching this next game, but don't think Elon gets completely embarrassed. Plus, Elon has God, and a pugnacious one at that, on its side.
The Pick: Elon

West Coast, Gonzaga (-7.5) at San Diego- I tried to stay up for the St. Mary's-San Diego game last night but instead chose sleep and a functional day when I saw the Gaels up about 15 in the second half. When I awoke to see the Toreros had come back and won in double-overtime, in what sounds like it was an incredible game (34 combined points in second OT), I cursed those extra couple hours of sleep. If the Bulldogs win, it will be their fifth straight auto-bid and will cement a two-bid league. If San Diego wins, the West Coast gets an unprecedented three teams and snatches a bid from that mass of excrement that is this year's Bubble. This is probably an understatement, but that atmosphere is going to be batshit crazy tonight. As someone who gets an unusual, probably unhealthy enjoyment out of those late-night WCC games, the atmosphere tonight should be overwhelming. Plus, the game will be played in the Jenny Craig Pavilion, which means the fans will likely be hungry, cranky and eager to take out their issues of self-worth on an anonymous opponent. The Zags are coming off one of their worst offensive performances of the year in beating Santa Clara by four last night but its last loss to San Diego came eight years ago... in the West Coast Conference championship... in San Diego. I don't think history will repeat itself, but I think it will be close.
The Pick: San Diego

Championship Week Record: 4-0
Overall Record: 59-44-4
Regular Season Record: 55-44-4

ACC: 6-10
Big 12: 6-10-2
Big East: 17-6-1
Big Ten: 8-7
SEC: 5-4
Pac-10: 1-0
Missouri Valley: 2-0
West Coast: 6-1
Big West: 0-1
CAA: 0-1
Horizon: 0-0-1
A-10: 2-3
SoCon: 1-0
MAC: 0-1
Non-Conf: 1-0

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Hooray For Links! March 10


I was never a big proponent of doing link dumps and the like on this site because, well, it didn't really make sense to me. Why would I simply reproduce things that are already out there? But as I did my own scouring of the Intertubes for college hoops content, I realized there was just too much quality (and, at times, utterly awful) stuff out there to simply leave untapped. So I give you Hooray For Links! which should appear at completely random intervals. Because without links, it's not really a blog, it's just a place to put thoughts I might not want to forget.

Them links be after the jump.
Continue...

First off, I was gonna do one of these last week but didn't get around to it so if any of these are old news or have already been determined as uninteresting, I apologize.

- The new Deadspin Media Approval Ratings have been very interesting, especially the results surrounding some college hoops folk. Here they are:

Doug Gottlieb: 44.3%
Billy Packer: 9.5%
Gus Johnson: 90.4%
Erin Andrews: 95.2%
Mike Patrick: 47.8%

It's worth mentioning that ESPN is known for infiltrating these polls when they involve one of their people, which could be why the derisive Gottlieb is near 50 percent (despite being a bully) and the brain-dead Patrick is above 3 percent. Obviously the 5 percent that disapproves of Andrews are women and the 10 percent that disapproves Gus are deaf (my feelings on him are well-documented). Billy Packer's 9.5% was provided solely by the Nantz family.

- Speaking of Gottlieb, USA Today did a feature on him for no apparent reason whatsoever, except to give an already hefty ego and even greater boost. I think Gottlieb is a pretty smart guy and definitely is one of the smarter ESPN hoops analysts. But the way he presents his opinions in that pompous, I'm-the-voice-of-reason-in-college-hoops, I-think-Tom Brennan-is-a-huge-douche type of way, not to mention a completely boring way with no sense of humor (like Brennan), is just unnecessary. I've said this before but he's like one of those guys on the message boards that happens to know more than everyone else and wants them all to know it. Anyway, the feature was an absolute puff piece, barely mentions the credit card thing at Notre Dame or many of his controversial statements. It also contains no sources from Gottlieb detractors, only speaking with his family and co-workers. But read it if you want a reason to dislike Doug Gottlieb some more.

- Dana O'Neill at ESPN.com continues to crank out outstanding pieces in her first few months on the job. This one on Michael Beasley, perhaps the 20th I've read on him, is probably the best look into Beasley's life and mind that has been written. Beasley comes off as a pretty intelligent, thoughtful guy, especially when speaking about the true impact of being a really freaking good 19-year-old basketball player.
"I'm still a kid; I'm still irresponsible and I want to still be irresponsible sometimes," Beasley said as the fans circled behind him. "When I go to the NBA, that's over. My life is America's life. LeBron James gets a speeding ticket, the cop goes on with his day and LeBron is all over 'SportsCenter.' Britney Spears shaves her head, it's everywhere. You shave your hair, who cares? That's why I'm not sure I'm ready for the NBA.

"I mean, what's being famous anyway? It's a popularity contest. Don't get me wrong. I'm lucky. I love my life, but I just don't understand it. I brush my teeth with the same Crest. I use the same bar of soap. My house gets junky just like yours. I'm just a regular guy who can play basketball. I'm normal."

Nah dude, I use Colgate. And unlike the Gottlieb piece, O'Neill confronts Beasley on Dalonte Hill, Bob Huggins and all the weirdness around his recruitment. He acknowledged that he's only at KSU because of Hill but said Frank Martin's head coach position is legitimate. I disagree, but whatever, I can't drop 44 in a Big 12 game.

- Speaking of Kansas State, Big Sexy Jason Whitlock weighs in on the squad and its recent struggles. And wouldn't you know it, Mr. Whitlock has something critical to say. He calls out the fans, Crazy Person Frank Martin's sideline antics and the sulking so often seen from the young guys (not sure I agree on this). Whitlock's a great writer so it's worth a read but don't expect to be smiling when you're done reading.

- I've written a bit on Philadelphia hoops phenom, the as yet unsigned Tyreke Evans. The New York Times decided to do the same and turns in a good feature on the completely ridiculous amount of hoopla surrounding his senior season.

- Kevin Love. John Wooden. Outlet passes. And Brent Musberger gets his first erection in years.
/shudders


- I Loooovveeeee The Drake around here and given the Bulldogs complete destruction of the Missouri Valley, I link this column from ESPN.com's Pat Forde from a couple weeks ago on just how much he too, loves the Drake.

- Patrick Patterson may be coming back to school next year... according to his Facebook page.

- The blinding brilliance of Kissing Suzy Kolber and Big Daddy Drew applies itself to college hoops and Coach K (via Deadspin). And all is right with the world.

- What dreams of made of.


- You've probably heard by now that Lil Romeo is going to USC on a basketball scholarship. You've probably considered how ridiculous this is. The Wall Street Journal would like to confirm how ridiculous this is... as would Tim Floyd. Apparently this is just a package deal with DeMar DeRozan, who is apparently really freaking good and tight with Romeo. Obviously everyone at USC denies that.

- This post at FreeDarko on Mike Dunleavy and his days at Duke, where he recorded a video with a campus comedy group, might be completely useless or awe-inspiringly awesome. Decide for yourself. A teaser: Dunleavy plays Death in Stratego.

- Your obligatory Erin Andrews item.

- Never have I been more excited after a college basketball play than I was after Kristof Ongenaet's steal/crossover/posterizing of Marquette Saturday. I'm assuming that is what people felt like after Jason McElwain made all of those threes.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sunday's Pick: Missouri Valley Championship

I assure you, that is The Drake

Because the best way to feign actual knowledge on a subject is an accurate prediction, I introduce The Picks. Every weekday, Monday-Thursday (hopefully) I will pick the televised games of the night, against the spread of course, and follow the results to see if I actually know something about basketball. The results should be both entertaining (for readers) and soul-crushing (for me). And if I'm wrong, I'll just do what all the TV "experts" do: never bring it up again and avoid all accountability. And since I won't be betting actual money (that often), I win every time!

I'll also be occasionally picking against one of my roommates, Craig, so we can have a rational method of settling all disputes involving rent, household matters, etc.


Last Night: Michael Jenkins tried his best to deflect some of the attention from that giant person that UNC Asheville (-2.5) plugged in the middle by scoring almost as much (33) as the entire Asheville team (48). The Eagles won by 18 but it was still a very entertaining with great defense, good athletes and of course, Kenny George (who, somehow, is a great passer with a nice shooting touch; he just doesn't rebound or dunk, which are widely considered things a 7-8 person should be able to do). Austin Peay (-3) and Belmont (-6) both rolled to get into the Big Dance, just as I had expected.

Missouri Valley, Illinois State vs. Drake (-2.5)- This is the match-up everyone, especially members of Bubble teams across the country, wanted. The Valley will get its two bids no matter what and the Syracuses and New Mexicos of the world can breath easier (that is, if being a completely mediocre team allows one to breath easy). That's not to say this game is meaningless, winning this conference is an incredible feat any year and to win the regular season AND tournament, like Drake has a chance to do, would be nuts (especially for a team picked to finish ninth in the preseason). Plus, the Bulldogs, who hopefully have proved they are for real by now, might be able to get a No. 4 or 5 seed with a win, which would be their third over Illinois State this year. This is going to be a typical Valley final with a slowed down, grind-it-out, make your threes, take care of the ball, awake your fans with the occasional dunk from Josh Young feel to it. It will be a battle of the super sophs Young for Drake and Osiris Eldridge, which is not a character in the Lion King, for the Redbirds. But I think this one, in a game where the ball pressure and intensity will be sky high, is going to come down to who can avoid turnovers and not give the other easy baskets. Therefore.... GOT TO LOOOOVVVVVVVEEEEEE THE DRAKE.
The Pick: Drake

Championship Week Record: 3-0
Overall Record: 58-44-4
Regular Season Record: 55-44-4

ACC: 6-10
Big 12: 6-10-2
Big East: 17-6-1
Big Ten: 8-7
SEC: 5-4
Pac-10: 1-0
Missouri Valley: 2-0
West Coast: 6-1
Big West: 0-1
CAA: 0-1
Horizon: 0-0-1
A-10: 2-3
SoCon: 1-0
MAC: 0-1
Non-Conf: 1-0

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Your Gratuitous BracketBuster Preview


If you can will yourself to ignore all of this Kelvin Sampson excruciating minutiae fun, you may have noticed we've got our first really big, important college hoops weekend coming up. Bubbles are being formed, conference races shaping up, Gus Johnson has begun drinking 12 cups of coffee per day and to kick off the March precursor we get the BracketBusters, beginning tonight. Despite a history of bad decisions by the media and its college basketball coverage, the BracketBusters was a great idea, so it's only fitting that we take advantage of such rare competence and watch the hell out of these games. (Also, there are a ton more teams involved in this that just aren't on TV, here is a full schedule.)

I've talked about "Point of Reference Games" -- where good, under-the-radar teams finally get a nationally televised chance to give casual fans a point of reference when eventually deciding if these obscure squads are first-round losers or Sweet 16 Cinderellas -- and the BracketBusters is founded on that principle. So here is your preview of the ESPN(2) contests and a couple others that might matter in March. All games are Saturday unless listed otherwise.

And Kyle Whelliston of ESPN.com and Mid-Majority has a great preview as well but it does not include jokes about religion, mid-Westerners or one-night stands as this does.

Davidson at Winthrop, Friday 7 ET ESPN2- For a preview of this game check out Friday's Pick.

Virginia Commonwealth at Akron, 11 a.m. ET ESPN2
The Skinny: The Rams (RPI: 60) should be a bit perturbed that they didn't get a better match-up than this. That's not to say Akron (RPI: 91) isn't a good team and a road win wouldn't be impressive, but for a team looking to boost its resume in case of a pitfall in the always tough CAA Tournament, this game is an almost no-win situation. VCU, one of the best defensive teams in the country (fourth in eff. FG% defense, tops in 3-PT defense in country) is going to get what they want, which is a slow, defensive-minded game.
Key Factor: The Zips (real nickname) are a good three-point shooting team with Nick Dials and Cedric Middleton, but probably haven't seen the type of smothering ball pressure on the perimeter (not to mention the length inside that will give Akron leading scorer and recently injured Jeremiah Wood fits) that VCU will provide. Well, actually they have once, they played partial VCU clone Winthrop in December and shot 35.5 percent from the field and 7-27 from three in a 68-58 loss.
To Watch For: The one thing the Zips have going for them is that abysmal 11 a.m. starting time. A star like Eric Maynor usually isn't going to be asleep on a Friday until like 6 the following morning. I've gotta think when you're making the Walk Of Shame to the team bus, it's a bit of a disadvantage.
Final Score: VCU 62, Akron 58

George Mason at Ohio, 1 ET ESPN2
The Skinny: Both teams had an inside track on a decent at-large case until recently. Mason (RPI: 67) has lost two of four and will need some of its patented magical NCAA Tournament pixie dust again to make the dance (and will probably have to go through VCU again to do it.) Ohio (RPI: 62), which owns a win at Maryland, has lost three of its last five and is third in the East division of the MAC.
Key Factor: This game will feature some great battles on the inside with both teams strength lying in the frontcourt. Folarin Campbell and double-double man Will Thomas (16 and 10), two holdovers from the Patriots Final Four run, will match up against Jerome Tillman and double-double man Leon Williams (15 and 10), which should make entry passing, foul trouble and reliable spot up shooting the deciders (not George W. Bush, contrary to popular belief) in this game.
To Watch For: In a very deliberate game like this, you have to favor a team that executes in the half-court and takes care of the ball like George Mason. You also have to favor George Mason because it is clearly a team with divine powers and Jim Larranaga an obvious John From Cincinnati.
/references shitty, abstract TV show
Final Score: George Mason 70, Ohio 63

Creighton at Oral Roberts, 3 ET ESPN2
The Skinny: I've seen Creighton (RPI: 71) play once this year and I thought I was watching an NCAA Tournament team. Perhaps I was hallucinating. Since that game (Jan. 15 at Northern Iowa) the Blue Jays are 5-5 and 0-4 on the road, ending their at-large hopes. Although I am hearing they will still play this game anyway, so let's talk about their opponent. Gone from ORU (RPI: 46) are 12-year players Caleb Green and Ken Tutt, leaving behind a group of likely Christian Fundamentalists who have smited their Summit League opponents to a 15-1, first place conference record. Four of the Golden Eagles losses are at Texas, Texas A & M, Arkansas and Utah State, with the other two a three-point loss and an OT loss, both on the road. A win here would give them a slight chance (perhaps with the help of some divine intervention, huh? maybe?) at giving the committee something to think about.
Key Factor: This is a great Point of Reference game because if either team gets in, it will be capable of winning a game in March. Despite playing the typical mid-major game of deliberate offense, solid D and timely shooting, ORU actually has the personnel of a major conference school. They are 6-8 (Marcus Lewis) and 6-10 (Shawn King) up front which results in a solid interior defense and have decent quickness on the perimeter. Creighton is going to run a bunch of guys out there, many of whom will be part of the Korver family, play a bit quicker than most Valley teams and will try to turn pressure into turnovers.
To Watch For: God.
Final Score: Oral Roberts 73, Creighton 69

Nevada at Southern Illinois, 4:30 ET ESPNU
The Skinny: Wow! Nevada and Southern Illinois! We could see both these teams in the Elite Eight!... waits for right time to break the news...waits for it... sigh... No, retarded hoops fan, these are not the Nevada (RPI: 73) and SIU (RPI: 58) teams you are used to. These former mid-major darlings have fallen on hard times this season (and may be cooperating on a jealousy-fueled murder plot of Butler, which doesn't even return either team's phone calls anymore). Each is in third in its respective conference, but will need an auto bid to cause a Tourney ruckus.
Key Factor: We do, however get to see some really solid players, most notably Nevada's sophomore center JaVale McGee and senior forward Marcellus Kemp and Southern Illinois' Randal Falker. McGee is an NBA prospect, which means he will likely crush the hopes and dreams of Wolf Pack fans by leaving early, but hey, why should we care! Kemp put his name in last year but decided to return and is averaging 20 per game this year. Probably still gonna be a second-rounder anyway. And Randall Falker is one of the great mid-major players you'll ever see. A bruiser, great defender and improving offensive presence, Falker will be matched up on McGee and his ability to stay out of foul trouble and limit the big man will go a long way to deciding this one.
To Watch For: The Salukis' struggles this year have not carried over to their incredible home court advantage, with their only two losses coming to Indiana and Butler. Nevada doesn't have the most reliable ballhandlers so expect the crowd to smell blood and lead their oddly named squad to triumph.
Final Score: Southern Illinois 69, Nevada 60

Drake at Butler, 5 ET ESPN2
The Skinny: Ah, here we go. This is what happens when networks use common sense to pick match-ups. No one ever would have thought Drake-Butler would be a watchable game and lo and behold we have one of the best mid-major match-ups of the season. Both teams are in the NCAAs already so this is about seeding. Butler (RPI: 17) has a legit shot at a No. 3 seed while Drake (RPI: 15) is probably looking at something in the 6-8 range after losing two of the three.
Key Factor: Despite being mildly obsessed with The Drake (mostly due to the Seinfeld reference possibilities) I haven't seen them play this year. No one has. That's why this game should be so great. There is no secret to what the Bulldogs do though, which is lull you to sleep on the offensive end until they get an easy basket and never ever turn the ball over. Butler basically does the same thing, except better. You better make sure there are no gas leaks in your house when this game tips because you will be out cold before the first TV timeout (also you don't want to be poisoned, so there's that).
To Watch For: The big match-up is in the backcourt with Butler's battle-tested duo of AJ Graves and Mike Green clashing with Drake's top two scorers Josh Young and Leonard Houston. But the key to the game could be Butler freshman Matt Howard, who Drake has no answer for but tends to take himself out of games with foul trouble. When he gets going the three barrage begins and Drake doesn't defend the line all that well.
Final Score: Butler 58, Drake 48

Kent State at St. Mary's, Midnight ESPN2
The Skinny: With the Gaels (RPI: 26) already in and focused merely on vanquishing the Zags in a battle for West Coast supremacy (and I believe free Taco Bell), this is a HUGE game for Kent State (RPI: 40). The Flashes have wreaked havoc in March before and currently sit atop the MAC but have just one non-conference win (George Mason) to hang their hat on. If they travel across the country and beat a really good St. Mary's team, they should be on the good side of the Bubble, at least for the time being.
Key Factor: Kent State has a chance in this game if they slow the tempo and make St. Mary's play in the halfcourt. The Gaels are still pretty good in the halfcourt and it will be tough to slow them down in the coffin-like cozy gym they have there. But the Flashes should be happy with "a chance" to pull this one off. I do like their ability to match up with Mills in the backcourt but it's going to be tough for a small Kent team to stop Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. If this game was at Kent State it would be a very even match up, though.
To Watch For: Will St. Mary's, and its fans, care enough? The Gaels have third place San Diego coming in Monday and travel to Gonzaga for a vengeance game next week. Frankly they have bigger fish to fry (or tofu or whatever the fuck they eat out there). If they come out flat against a desperate, but solid mid-major this won't be a gimme.
Final Score: St. Mary's 78, Kent State 65

Wright State at Illinois State, Sunday 6:30 ET ESPNU
The Skinny: With the first-place teams in the Horizon and Valley facing off in Drake-Butler, it might overshadow another important game between the second-place teams in those leagues. Whichever team wins this might fool themselves into thinking an at-large isn't a complete pipe dream. Wright State (RPI: 70) beat Butler to earn the auto-bid last year and have beaten the Bulldogs this season, with a chance to sweep next week. Illinois State (RPI: 52) is second in a usual multi-bid Valley but is 4-5 in its last nine, a streak that began with a loss to The Drake.
Key Factor: Both teams do that whole good defense, boring offense, good shooters thing that mid-majors love so much but also both have rising stars leading their respective teams from the backcourt. Sophomores Osiris Eldridge of Illinois State and Vaughn Duggins of Wright State should be a great match-up of likely future POYs in their leagues.
To Watch For: Shifty Mid-Westerners
Final Score: Wright State 54, Illinois State 52

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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Week In Chaos: January 28


Introducing a new, recurring post here on SSS, The Week In Chaos. Following suit with the completely inane craziness that was the college football season, the year in college hoops has been a complete mess, with the turning point being the week before last, in which 15 of the AP top 25 lost (thankfully, when this happens to hoops, our season actually ends in excitement). I thought it might just be an anomaly, that better basketball was on the horizon, that parity didn't necessarily have to mean mediocrity. I was wrong. Seriously, there are about 20 teams that actually deserve one of the 34 at-large bids that will be given out and only about five teams with a legitimate shot of winning the title without receiving some kind of divine intervention. Barring some Cinderella runs, there are only two non-BCS leagues, the A-10 and West Coast, guaranteed to get multiple bids. It goes on and on.

While this weekend wasn't as bad, it still continued the disturbing trend in what I am now calling The Year Of Mediocrity, which I will now chronicle every Monday, not out of want, but out of necessity. Who else will tell the story of our hoops apocalypse?

Here's the rundown of the past week...

AP Top 25 teams going undefeated- 13
AP Top 25 teams going winless- 5. Vanderbilt, Dayton, Ole Miss, Villanova, Arizona State.

Most Ridiculous Displays of Mediocrity- Pitt, a team that has beaten Duke and destroyed Georgetown, got crushed by Rutgers at home. Rutgers, which beat two top 20 teams last week (Villanova), has lost to St. Peter's, which is, in fact, a real team; they are 4-16 overall, 1-9 in the powerhouse that is the MAAC and are called the Peacocks. They were taken to Red Lobster after the victory.

Elsewhere, Dayton, a team that devastated the aforementioned beacons of mediocrity Pitt and also won at Louisville, got manhandled by the Richmond Spiders. Richmond has lost to Maryland-Baltimore County (America East), Norfolk State (MEAC, 8-9), Marist (MAAC, no longer have Jared Jordan, that white guy everyone liked so much) and LaSalle (A-10, 7-11) this year. Dayton went from a potential No. 4 seed to squarely on the NCAA Bubble as they have now lost three straight and are below .500 in conference. They don't have freshman Chris Wright and Charles Little, two solid contributors, but seriously, you just can't give up 80 points to Richmond, (289th in possessions per game, 219th in offensive efficiency, never learned how to dribble).

Most Embarrassing Realization of Mediocrity- Vanderbilt, a team that was among the last of the unbeatens, a team that should have been in the Elite Eight last year and by all accounts improved, now sucks. Case in point, after 12 minutes of yesterday's "game" against Florida, a team that hasn't even hit puberty yet, the Dores were down 34-6 and lost by 22. Andrew Ogilvy has been doing his best Luc Longley lately, failing to reach his average in four straight games. After going 16-0, they are 2-3 in conference and are set up perfectly for one of those How In the Hell Did Vandy Get Into the Sweet 16 Again?-type performances.

Most Refreshing Exhibition of Expected Dominance- Kansas massacred Nebraska... again. The Jayhawks led by 29 at half and won by 35. You know, like they were supposed to. This appears to be the best team in the country, despite being coached by Bill Self, who has a clause in his contract to always underachieve come tournament time.

Most Refreshing Exhibition of Expected Dominance (Non Kansas/Memphis Division)- This could be filed under "Unexpected" but it's a top 10 preseason team that is finally healthy: Louisville. They have won six of seven and by simply crushing South Florida and St. John's, teams they were supposed to crush, have taken the Clusterfuck That Is The Big East by storm. That's all it takes. But seriously, doesn't this team remind you of Georgetown last year? Took about half a season to get healthy and in gear and the superior talent begins to shine through. Somehow they aren't ranked in either poll this week, but it appears Final Four aspirations aren't insane given the fews teams in the country that actually have a cohesive unit of good players and are well coached. (Now watch as they are destroyed by UConn tonight).

Most Unexpected Victory That Probably Should've Been Expected Anyway- THE DRAKE!!! Got to loooovvvvveeeeeThe Drake. And even though they were supposed to beat Northern Iowa at home Saturday and barely did, the simple fact that an overachieving team can actually sustain its level of success for a full week, is pretty darn impressive. If The Drake had been crushed by Northern Iowa no one would've blinked, especially after Tuesday's overtime victory at Creighton. In the Year Of Mediocrity, merely avoiding an upset counts as a huge step forward. This team, which was picked ninth in the preseason Valley poll, is now 9-0 in conference and probably a lock for an at-large even if they falter in the league tourney. Creighton gets another shot at The Drake Wednesday, and I think all The Drake needs to do to remain above Mediocrity is not get blown out. Yes it's that bad.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

The Drake Still Loved, Pope Plays, Parmeter Story Not As Good Feely As Before

There were some interesting developments in a few stories I recently posted on, so let's update.

First, I continue to Loooooveee The Drake as the Bulldogs won the Valley battle of the unbeatens Saturday, topping Illinois State 79-73 at home. The Drake has first place all to themselves now. They won this one without Valley leading score Josh Young again, and were led by Adam Emmenecker, he of the buzzer-beater against Bradley and mid-major poster boy story (former walk-on, white, named Emmenecker). The real test for The Drake comes tomorrow night though, as they travel to Creighton, a team I found to be mighty impressive when it won at Northern Iowa on ESPN last week.

Second, in a sign that the hoops gods are certainly looking down upon this humble, albeit shallow, sports blog, the day I posted the first Drake item (linked above), they actually played The Drake episode of Seinfeld on FOX that night. The Drake, team of destiny.

***
My boy Herb Pope finally played Saturday after being involved in all sorts of craziness. Haven't seen highlights because, you know, he plays for New Mexico State, but he had five points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes, getting off nine shots in the process. In a sign of just how versatile the 6-8 forward's floor game is, he also had four assists and six turnovers [REDACTED]. My obsession with Pope is well-documented and I suppose it has more to do with his flaws than his game, but in all seriousness, it's good to see this kid actually get on the court. There have been many players before him who have been through shit half as bad and screwed up half as much and let it completely derail their careers. Let's hope basketball will phase all the other crap out for Pope. And this weekend, hoops fan will get their first, and maybe only, look at Pope as the Aggies play Utah State Saturday, 6 p.m. on ESPN2. It will also be a battle of the top two teams in the WAC right now, for those of you more interested in that hotly-contested race.

***
And finally, a weird update to Gary Parrish's outstanding story on Eastern Arizona head coach Tim Parmeter, which I posted on last week. Parmeter was coaching through an awful tragedy where his ex-wife committed a murder-suicide with his infant child. Well, he's not coaching anymore and it has nothing to do with grief. Parrish posted an update this morning, writing that Parmeter had been fired after being accused of having a relationship with a student at the junior college and that she might not have been of consenting age when the relationship began. There's an investigation into the case and everyone, including Parmeter, did that thing where they say they want to comment, even though they don't, but they can't because of legal issues. Not sure what to make of this and it's obviously all accusations right now, but if you've read Parrish's original story, this is certainly tough to see.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Got To Loooooove The Drake

I assure you, that is The Drake

Yes, a headline that is surely being reproduced throughout the tubes today, in honor of the Drake Bulldogs, Kings of the Valley, who beat Bradley last night to improve to 6-0 in conference and 15-1 on the season. They unseat Dayton, which was cannibalized by UMass last night, as the mid-major du jour, following in the footsteps of Gardner Webb, Southern Illinois and Davidson. Hopefully it works out better for Drake.

The win last night was a big one, despite Bradley's 8-9 record (1-4 conf.) heading in. The Braves were without their best player Daniel Ruffin for the sixth straight game (1-5 over that stretch) but were still picked to finish second in the conference preseason poll. Drake was down seven with 3:46 left, took a late two-point lead, suffered a bomb from Sam Maniscalco from Bradley to trail by one with 17 seconds left and got a timeout. Guard Adam Emmenecker drove to the hoop, shot with four seconds, missed, got his own rebound, missed and somehow got the rebound again, all in four seconds mind you, and scored the game-winner at the buzzer. You cannot stop Adam Emmenecker when he hits the glass. You can't and you won't.

Anyway, let's take a look at Drake's resume this year and see if the team picked 9th in the league in the preseason could possibly get the topsy-turvy Valley two bids again. For a nice feature on The Drake, check out Gary Parrish's story from a couple days ago.

- Their one loss was to a respectable St. Mary's team in the second game of the season, back when the Gaels were beating Oregon and all that. It was a six-point road loss, not too bad.

- Their "notable" non-conference wins include Iowa, Iowa State and Duquesne. In conference they won at Wichita State and beat Southern Illinois, Indiana State and Missouri State at home.

- The numbers over at basketball Bible KenPom aren't too bad. The RPI is 19th, SOS is middle-of-the-pack at 130th, the Pythagorean Winning Percentage (much-needed explanation here) is not much lower at 24th in the country. And their luck rating, contrary to popular belief I'm sure, is only 61st in the country.

- Offensive efficiency is solid, ranked 42nd in the nation and the defense is even better at 22nd. They are ranked No. 266 in tempo, which means they play slow (brilliant, I know). And the most telling number is Drake's Turnover Pct. (turnovers/possessions) which ranks 6th in the country. Their steal pct. is high too. Without having seen Drake play this year, I already know they take care of the ball, play tough defense and get high percentage shots. Sounds like a radical idea for a successful mid-major to me.

- Still at KenPom, they are projected to go 25-3, 16-2 in conference, which would surprise every person in the world, but would certainly be enough for an at-large if they fail to win the Valley. tournament.

- Taking a look at Drake's players, it has been without leading scorer Josh Young for the past two and a half games. But luckily they are a deep team, with ten players getting at least ten minutes. Like any Valley team from Iowa that's existed over the past 30 years, they have a Korver - Klayton (the K is for Kool!), a senior forward, who just so happens to shoot a ton of threes. Besides Emmenecker and Korver, they have some other last names found only in mid-major basketball: Heemskerk and Baryenbruch. They do lack size however, with only two true big men, both of which are only 6-8. Although one of those guys, Johnathan Cox, a junior, averages 8.5 rebounds (20th in the country in defensive rebound rate) and 1.3 blocks.

- Now of course, ALL of this is temporarily moot because Saturday, in a most surprising Game of the Year in the Valley, 6-0 (14-3 overall) Illinois State goes to Drake to play for the conference lead. If the Redbirds pull off the victory, the nation will Hate the Drake (and the Drakette) as if they donated the big screen you gave them to charity after the loss.

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