Monday, March 16, 2009

Initial March Madness Thoughts - Part I

Here are my initial thoughts on the bracket and my knee-jerk reaction picks before researching the teams and matchups more closely. I typically revise my bracket too many times before actually submitting and then, like everyone else I’m sure, immediately regret picking one team to go to far and kicking a different team out too early. This is why I’ve won only one pool in 17 years.

(1) Louisville v. (16) Play-in Game Winner: If a 16 ever beats a 1, I really hope it’s the play-in winner because it will destroy brackets, especially if the 16 keeps advancing. Any neutral fan who does not have a heart of darkness would be pulling for the 16 to advance in each round. Disney wouldn’t even do this movie because they would find it too sappy and unbelievable for Moorehead State or Alabama State to advance to the Final Four. Also, it’s pretty weak to have a field of 65. Imagine if you played for either one of these school and you’re all excited to be in the tournament and then you watch on Selection Sunday and you’re the goddamn play-in game. It’s like being told you picked the right numbers for the lottery, but you have to play rock-papers-scissors to actually collect the cash. It’s bogus. Just go back to 64 and leave an undeserving team from a bigger conference sit the hell out. Those teams don’t need more chances because they’ve been given all the chances in the world; they just lost too many games. And yes, even as a Pac 10 apologist, I’m looking right at you Arizona, don’t look away from me.

That said Louisville is a pretty damn good team. I like their tenacity on defense and they can fill it up. They need Terrance Williams to continue playing like he has been. I’m hoping for a few holy-crap plays from him. I’d like to see him do his between the legs dunk in a game. I’m sure Pitino would love that. Also, I’d like to request that Pitino sport that ghastly white suit for at least one tourney game, but instead wear a red shirt and no tie so he can look exactly like Tony Montana.

I remember that during last year’s tournament, analysts were saying that Earl Clark was the best NBA prospect on the team and I couldn’t understand it. He’s a big guy who looks very athletic, but he seemed to me like he was completely lost on the court and had no idea what he was doing. He’s gotten better this year, but I don’t really like him as an NBA prospect.

Williams, on the other hand looks like he knows exactly what he should be doing at all times, except, of course, when he decides to shoot threes, of which he makes around 30 percent. Here’s a tip: if you’re only going to make three out of 10 shots from beyond the arc, from the COLLEGE stripe, I think you ought to stop shooting them with such regularity. I think he needs a shot doctor because he has a decent-looking stroke, but probably shoots it from all kinds of different heights because he jumps so damn high. One other thing, watch him run when he doesn’t have the ball. He looks like he’s wearing house slippers and shuffles in a way that suggests that if he doesn’t run that way, the slippers will come flying off. Chris Webber used to run this way. But it’s not as if he’s not athletic, he’s actually on the opposite end of that spectrum. The guy can dunk with his face if he wanted to. He’s one of those dudes who pretends to be a certain way because it looks cool or something. I didn’t get it until I confirmed that he is definitely a weird guy when I read Luke Winn’s SI article about him the other day. The gist of the article is that Williams is under the radar screen and that he’s another talented “point forward.” It was a good article and I enjoyed the brief history lesson on the position, but a few things struck me as “curious” about Williams. (1) he used to wear a Barbie backpack in high school, “just to be different,” (2) he’d wear Barney, Big Bird, and Spongebob Square Pants socks to practice, and (3) he was part of a “mean guy” group in high school, he told Winn that “we’d do stuff like come up to you in the cafeteria, knock your sandwich out of your hand and say, ‘You've gotta come strong to your mouth!’” Those are three very weird things filled with innuendo and I’m sure he’s grown out of some of them, if indeed growing out of certain things is possible to do. But if I was him, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be regaling an interviewer from SI about what a colossal dick I was to kids in high school. He looked the same as he does now as he did in high school. He might be a little bigger now at 220, but he was still 6’6 and at least 205. He sounds like a prototypical bully in an ‘80s comedy (movies, not the “Cosby Show”), if Hollywood actually comedies about teenage black kids in the ‘80s. Anyway, I love his game (except the shot).

Pick: Louisville

(8) Ohio State v. (9) Siena: This will be the first of many times that you’ll see me write this: I hate Big 10 Basketball. Normally I dislike broad, sweeping generalizations, but the style of play in that conference is nearly unwatchable at times. There are anomalies, such as that Illinois team lead by the three-guard attack of Deron Williams, Luther Head, and Dee Brown. They were exciting to watch because they pushed the action and were great shooters. My biggest beef is the dearth of scoring in the Big 10. Some of it is great defense, some of it is the conference’s complete lack of scoring ability. Evan Turner (of Club Trillion fame) led the Big 10 in scoring at 17.3. That’s gross and it’s indicative of what the Big 10 is capable of doing. I like my college hoops with scores hovering in the 70s and 80s. Take those games in the 50s and 60s games and seal them up with the Brylcreem and rampant racism.

Pick: Siena

(5) Utah v. (12) Arizona: My first thought then I saw Arizona in the field was, “That sucks for St. Mary’s.” A friend of mine went to school there and I’m sure he’s pissed that the Gaels are in the field. If Patty Mills didn’t get hurt they would be in without question because they probably would have beaten Gonzaga twice. As it is, he got hurt, St. Mary’s lost some games. The funny thing is, Arizona didn’t lose anyone and still lost games, yet here they are. Jordan Hill is a fantastic post player. Nic Wise is a decent PG and Chase Budinger is a hard guy to figure out, but I know that he can get deep-fryer hot and is explosive as hell. They don’t have many guys that play for them so if any of those guys rack up any fouls the only depth they will have is trouble. As for Utah, I know absolutely nothing about them, but I do know that they no longer have the tripled-umlauted wonder, Hanno Mottola, on their squad anymore. Too bad.

Quick tangent here, when I think of the University of Utah, I think back to a friend of mine who said that Utah is full of gorgeous women, nearly 90 percent of which are Mormon, and I wonder, is if fun to go to school there? I went to Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland, WA, and there were some really, really, really straight-laced people there, but I’d guess that they made up about half of the school’s population. Plus, we had beer with a full complement of alcohol content by volume. In Utah, their beer, by state law, has less alcohol content than normal. I don’t really have a point here at all, I just wanted to share what I think of when I think of Utah. Hot women, O’Doul’s-level beer, and religious tolerance.

The other thing that I think about is Andrew Bogut. I realize he was the first pick in the NBA draft a few years ago and sure, he’s a decent center with some nice ability, but I can’t picture him without thinking that he looks like a really ugly woman. He looks more like a woman than a man to me, even though he’d make a highly unattractive woman if that makes sense (I’m sure it doesn’t), not just because he’s 7’0 tall either because, as the photos prior to the Summer Games in Sydney proved, a freakishly tall woman (Lauren Jackson) can look quite fetching without any gear on.

Pick: Arizona

(4) Wake Forrest v. (13) Cleveland State: Wake has some great young players and was smokin’ hot early in the season. I actually kind of like their draw, they’ve got a really good chance to get to the Final Four, but they are one of those teams that I’ll probably pick to advance too far and they’ll burn me. Their youth is at the guard spot which is really dangerous in the tournament, but I do like their squad. I remember when UW played Cleveland State, but I didn’t see any of the game. I don’t recall if it was on TV or not, but I suspect that it wasn’t. I’ll be pulling for this team if for no other reason than the sweetness of this guy’s name: J'Nathan Bullock.

Pick: Wake

(6) West Virginia v. (11) Dayton: I haven’t seen Dayton play, but I did catch West Virginia play Louisville on March 7. They look like a pretty tough team and I’m hoping Bog Huggins busts out the sweet mock-turtleneck-no-sport-coat look for this game.

Pick: West Virginia

(3) Kansas v. (14) North Dakota State: Kansas pink-bellied UW early this year and made me think two things at the time: (1) Wow. UW cannot score and is not a tournament team, and (2) Kansas looks very good and the Cole Aldrich that we saw in limited doses during last year’s run is truly a nice player. I overreacted with my first thought, which is often the case, but my second thought is bearing out. Aldrich is a very nice player who isn’t the least bit stiff as his stature suggests that he is. I’m being insensitive here, but he looks like a big, slow, white guy and he’s big and white, but not necessarily slow, and he’s skilled. Kansas looks pretty tough to me still and a second round game of Kansas v. West Virginia looks promising. That said I’m fully rooting for North Dakota State to pull the upset. What’s not to like about a team that is in its first year of DI post-season eligibility that won its conference tournament on a play by their best player. The team can shoot the lights out and a team like that is very dangerous.

Pick: Kansas

(7) Boston College v. (10 USC): Truly a neutral floor for both teams. I doubt that anyone who went to USC decided that they liked the sun so much that they decided to move to Minneapolis. It’s more likely that BC alums live there because of the similar weather conditions. However, geographically speaking there is no advantage to either team in terms of travel. I haven’t seen BC play this year and can’t speak intelligently about them so I won’t, but I have seen USC play on several occasions and they are a difficult team to figure out. Throughout the year, they looked like a tournament team to me, but their record did not suggest it. They have very strong guard play out of Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis (who are both 6’5) and DeMar DeRozan is a freshman that I’ve been jocking for the entire season. I love his game and his ability. He’s turning it on at the right time as well (or maybe Tim Floyd is letting him play a little more freely now) as evidenced by his 21 and 13 game against UCLA he had in the Pac 10 tournament. Also, not sure if you saw this but he had a ferocious dunk in that same game where he stole the ball, passed it ahead, got it back and took off outside of the key, and nearly dunked the ball through the floor. It was incredible. I’m glad to see that they made it in the tournament because I think that they will make some serious noise.

Pick: USC

(2) Michigan State v. (15) Robert Morris: I have nothing to say about this game except that I don’t care and I hope it’s not a featured game on CBS anytime I’m in the vicinity of a TV.

Pick: Michigan State

(1) Connecticut v. (16) Chattanooga: I’m bummed Chattanooga bounced Steph Curry from the Tournament, I was looking forward to him lighting it up again. As for UCONN, they’re a very tough matchup because of their physical nature and talented guard play. They seem like a lock to make the Final Four.

Pick: Connecticut

(8) BYU v. (9) Texas A&M: Ugh. I echo my sentiments from the Michigan State game above. I might even turn off the TV if subjected to this game.

Pick: A & M, but who really cares? I picked BYU to go to the Sweet Sixteen when they had Rafael Araujo and they got chased home in the first round. Plus I hate all things BYU (with the exception of Steve Sarkisian, of course).

(5) Purdue v. (12) Northern Iowa: The Big 10 again… how in the world did they get seven teams in? I haven’t seen either of these teams, and my inclination to pick against the Big 10 based solely on hate is not very reasoned, so I guess I’ll side with Purdue if for no other reason than these two names on their roster, which I can only assume are very common names in Indiana: E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson. How can I argue with that?

Pick: Purdue

(4) Washington v. (13) Mississippi State: I both love and hate the way UW has been playing this year, but I can’t argue with the results. I love their ability to shoot the three (I should say Dentmon’s ability to do so and Thomas’s ability to occasionally do so). I love their defensive effort especially out of Overton and the two lanky fellows (Gant and Holiday). I love Pondexter’s realization that in order to be good, he’s got to be aggressive and put forth a ton of effort. I love Brockman’s ability to play like he’s made of boulders and Brillo pads and nab rebounds. I love Thomas’s strength, moxie, talent, and capability to make the right decisions as a freshman. I love the team’s heart and desire to storm back into games that they’re losing or to extend leads in games they are winning.

I hate the way that they don’t value possessions as much as they should be being too casual with the ball (on passes etc). I hate Brockman’s inability to score inside (exacerbated against this team with a dude who blocks everything thrown his way). I hate that I don’t trust anyone but Thomas and Dentmon to shoot a three. I hate their size at the guard position. I hate that Bryan-Amaning insists on missing two-foot shots.

I’m anxious for this game and I’m scared to talk about something that has been huge for them this year because it’s a highly jinxable topic. I’ll just say this, they are markedly better at one “thing” this year than they were at that “thing” last year when they were the worst team in the country doing that “thing.” I think that’s helped a lot. There, I think we’re ok…

I listened to a guy who covers Mississippi State this morning on KJR’s Mitch in the Morning show as I came in to work today and he described a team that is on a roll and that plays fast, plays aggressively, and have a great shot blocker. In other words, the same team that UW has without the shot blocker. A few months ago I said that MSU is the type of team that I wanted UW to play. I didn’t want them to go up against a team that was very disciplined and patient that had a big size advantage. They seem to have some bigger guards than UW, but who doesn’t?

I trust what I’ve seen in UW all year (even if I’m cursing at them each game and telling Brockman to stop trying to face up and do your crappy spin move in the post to charge into someone and pick up a stupid foul) and they seem like a team that is resilient enough to pull this game out and if they do, I don’t sweat Purdue or Northern Iowa in round 2.

Pick: Washington

(6) Marquette v. (11) Utah State: It’s a shame that Marquette lost Dominic James because their guard-oriented lineup was pretty great. I don’t know much about Utah State except that they are the third team from Utah in the tournament. Also, since they are from Utah it means that they’ll have the advantage of being more sober than a team from Wisconsin.

Pick: Marquette

(3) Missouri v. (14) Cornell: I’m really hoping that Missouri advances two rounds so that they get a chance to face Memphis (should they also advance). That game could rival the UW v. UAB game a few years ago. Mike Anderson (former UAB coach) has Missouri playing the same way his UAB squads played. Insane pace, pressing on D, athletic dudes running all over the place. I’m excited to see what this team can do and also what Anderson can do at a bigger conference where he can get more talented guys to run his game. I almost feel badly for Cornell. Almost.

Because I’m a big advocate of the power of names, I ask you this: how in the world do you stop Missouri’s Leo Lyons? This guy has double king of the jungle momentum going for him, plus he’s got the added benefit of being a Missouri Tiger. That’s a triple shot of big cat action.

Also, since we’re talking about Missouri, this is a good time and the perfect venue for me to mention that I’ve said for years that former Missouri forward, Doug Smith looks exactly like Big Daddy Kane.

Pick: Missouri

(7) California v. (10) Maryland: Cal is a tough team and evidently Mike Montgomery is a good college coach, but a horrid NBA coach, except that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s pretty clear he’ll stay in the college ranks where he belongs. I don’t know much about his team, and I don’t know anything about Maryland except that they got absolutely spanked a few times this year, which tells me that they have the propensity to lie down and die if they’re out of it.

Pick: California

(2) Memphis v. (15) Cal State Northridge: I saw Memphis just pants Gonzaga this year in Spokane. It was such a bad matchup for Gonzaga because of Memphis’s ridiculous athleticism. I like Tyreke Evans quite a bit. This looks like a very viable Final Four team. I was pissed that they lost to Kansas last year because I loved Derrick Rose, but he played very passively in the first half of that game. I don’t see the same kind of passivity in Evans, but he’s not the talent Rose was either…

Pick: Memphis

Tomorrow: East and South knee-jerk predictions

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