Well, Tim and John combined to go an impressive 1-3 yesterday. Guess which one of us got the only game right! Here’s a hint: It was Tim. Hopefully we will fare better today. The first game on the docket features two of John’s favorite coaches, Bruce Pearl and Tom Izzo, going head-to-head in a game that will hopefully wash the stink off of last night’s Bob Huggins-John Calipari duel.
TIM: John, I’ve had a lot of fun at your expense these last few weeks, from your decision to knock Butler out in the first round to your incredible ability to pick games incorrectly on second and third tries. But, there has been one thing (and one thing only, it seems) that you have been right about where I was wrong: You just don’t pick against Tom Izzo in March.
JOHN S: Well, first of all, some of my incorrect second or third tries were not what I had originally said, so that’s a little unfair. For example, I had West Virginia in the Final Four in my original bracket so….basically I’m a genius.
But yeah, it’s hard for me to really take credit for the Tom Izzo thing, because by now everyone should realize that Michigan State almost always outperforms expectations in the Tournament. Only three times in the last decade has MSU lost to a team seeded lower, and once was in the Final Four to national runner-up Arizona and another was to a George Mason team that would end up in the Final Four. Just as often, the Spartans have made surprising runs of their own, including one to the Elite Eight as a 7-seed in 2003, to the Final Four as a 5 in ’05, and to the National Championship game last year as an unheralded 2-seed. Izzo simply knows how to coach in the Tournament. So it’s not really surprising that Michigan State is once again in the Elite Eight, even in spite of the injury to Kalin Lucas. Continue reading
If there was any remaining doubt that this was the best NCAA Tournament ever, last night’s Xavier-KSU game (which I declared would not be close) should have cemented that status. Anyway, here are some more picks you can take to the bank….
2 Ohio State vs. 6 Tennessee
Original Pick: Georgetown over Ohio State
What I’ve Learned: Obviously, if the Volunteers are going to win this game, they are going to have to shut down Ohio State’s leading scorer in this Tournament: Jon Diebler. Diebler tore up UC-Santa Barbara in the First Round, dropping 23 points, and everyone knows that as goes Diebler, so go the Buckeyes. In all seriousness, Evan Turner has been the best player in college basketball this year and—notwithstanding what Denis Clemente, Terrell, Holloway, Jordan Crawford and Jacob Pullen all did at various points last night—the player who can most take over a game in this Tournament. Thanks to Georgetown’s early loss, Tennessee got to face Ohio in Round 2 and dispatched them fairly easilyafter struggling against San Diego State. But the fact that the Volunteers haven’t played a good team yet should make anyone wary of their ability to contain Turner.
The Pick: Ohio State Continue reading
After a dismal 18-14 First Round (and a 6-10 first day!), John S tries to redeem himself in Round 2 by carefully detailing what he learned:
10 Saint Mary’s vs. 2 Villanova
Original Pick: Villanova over Richmond
What I’ve Learned: I’m going to give myself some credit for this one: After all, I didn’t fall into the trap of picking Richmond to make the Sweet 16, like a lot of people did. After the First Round I had, that counts as a win. Although, I did say that people were underestimating Villanova, and the Wildcats barely snuck by Robert Morris, and even then only with the help of some friendly calls. I have faith, though, that a Jay Wright-coached team won’t pull that shit twice in a row.
New Pick: I’m still sticking with my guns and picking Villanova to make the Sweet 16.
With losses this week by the top two teams in the country, as well as Purdue’s loss of its best player for the whole year and Villanova getting its fourth loss in seven games, a popular refrain has settled in among the college basketball punditry: There are no elite teams this year! The front line is weak! No team is unbeatable!
Well, obvs. College basketball is not like college football, where dominant teams often do seem unbeatable. College basketball teams don’t go undefeated—not anymore—and therefore, they are all beatable. No. 1 seeds are going to lose at some point during the season, but that doesn’t mean the sky is falling.
It’s popular to compare this season’s probable No. 1 seeds with UNC from last year, the preseason favorite that coasted to a National Championship. But the idea that last year’s Tar Heels were unbeatable or invulnerable is revisionist history, stemming largely from the fact that UNC did not face a significant challenge in the NCAA Tournament.
At this point last season, though, UNC was the #4 team in the country, behind Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, and UConn. They started out 0-2 in ACC play, including a loss at home to an unimpressive Boston College team, and at this point in the season had three total losses—one more than Kansas, Kentucky, and Syracuse have this year. It’s true that the ACC was a stronger conference last year, and that the Tar Heels were generally considered the favorites throughout the year, but they were by no means an unstoppable behemoth, surviving close calls at Florida State and at Miami. Continue reading
With two of the four teams generally considered “elite” losing to unranked teams at home this week (Syracuse to Louisville, Villanova to UConn), Kansas and Kentucky are presumably more solidly entrenched as the two best teams, both in the rankings and in peoples’ minds. They are the only two teams left with just one loss and they are both loaded with talent projected to go in the first round of the NBA Draft (Kansas has Xavier Henry, Cole Aldrich, and Sherron Collins; Kentucky has John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Patrick Patterson). Kentucky, though, has already faced two close calls this week, needing overtime to win at Mississippi State, and facing Tennessee in a game that went back and forth until the Wildcats pulled away during the last eight minutes.
During that game, however, I started wondering an odd thing: Is Bruce Pearl an underrated coach? This seems like an odd thing to say about a guy whose team is coming off back-to-back double-digit losses, who has never made it past the Sweet 16 of an NCAA Tournament, and isn’t even the biggest basketball coach at his own school. He is more known for things like taking his shirt off at a Lady Vols game and his feud with John Calipari than for anything to do with coaching.