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The Betrayal Of The Orange

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No one's happy about the move to the ACC in Syracuse.

When I was a kid I remember watching Syracuse-Georgetown on CBS and going insane with every piece of action.

There was one game in particular, I can’t remember the date but it involved John Thompson getting ejected, Syracuse shooting six straight free throws and the Carrier Dome going insane. I had my eyes glued to the television not knowing what to think.

After that game I was a Big East fanatic. It wasn’t just about Syracuse-Georgetown, it was big Monday, Villanova-Georgetown at the Spectrum or Wachovia Center, The Big East tournament at the Garden, The Backyard Brawl twice a year, Gerry McNamera and Kemba Walker’s magic at the Garden, Ray Allen going bonkers in the Big East Tournament… As you can tell I love the Big East.

It’s been the best basketball conference since I was a kid, the only conference to have 11 teams in the tournament, 3 Final Four teams and it’s the conference that my favorite basketball team plays in, The Syracuse Orange.

Since Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens an Derrick Coleman to John Wallace to Anthony and the current group of Orangemen I’ve been a borderline nutcase. Even as an Ohio State alum Syracuse is still the basketball team I die with. I love them more than any NBA team that’s how deep it is.

As much as I love Syracuse football, the school is synonymous with basketball and the Big East.

When February rolls around there is nothing greater than looking at the Syracuse schedule and seeing a gauntlet of opponents that gives me ulcers but creates some of the best basketball around. 10 games against Louisville, Pitt, UCONN, Georgetown, Villanova, Notre Dame who are all ranked in the top 15 at some point and then St. John’s, Providence and Marquette thrown in for good measure. Hostile environments, tough opponents who bruise you in every way and just awesome basketball.

It makes winter just as much fun to be a sports fan as any other time of the year… and it’s now over.

When Syracuse announced that it was joining the ACC I almost cried (no seriously, I was at a bar after the Mayweather fight and saw the announcement on ESPN… I left immediately after in a rage… I’m a little overboard with this stuff sometimes I think). The tradition that it had built up for years, the rivalries with Georgetown and UCONN that had been so prevalent and the mystique of the Garden were pushed aside for a TV deal, money and a chance to showcase the ACC in New York as AD Daryl Gross put it… They have a showcase, it’s called the Greensboro Coliseum, let em have it.

I’m a traditionalist, I like rivalries, I like mystique, that’s what makes sports great especially college. Rivalries are what fuels games and competition. When the Cuse played UCONN it was about supremacy for the conference year in an out with the same area and the games were so physically and passionate it drove you nuts. Are we really going to get the same feel when the Cuse plays Maryland?

This is agonizing, the games will never be the same nor will they have the same intensity. I go from a gauntlet to watching the Cuse play Virginia, N.C. State and Wake Forest (ooooooohhhhh….). The age of the superconference has begun and it is killing the fabric that college sports was built on.

First we get Nebraska-Oklahoma taken away from us, then Texas A&M-Texas, now this… What’s next?

What is the reason for any of this? Jim Boeheim may have the answer himself.

“Football and money,” he said while on ESPN yesterday. That’s all it really is. Schools with football programs want TV money and their own network. The only reason Syracuse and Pitt for that matter are on the move is because of this one reason…

And it makes no sense.

One, if you want more money and a chance to showcase yourself wouldn’t you join a better conference. The ACC has been the most mediocre of the other 5 big BCS conferences (yep more than than the so-called woeful Big East. In BCS bowls the ACC is 1-9, the Big East has 5 wins including a National championship when Miami still called the Big East home) when it comes to football. They’ve become a punching bag for mediocrity and no one outside of their conference takes them too seriously.

Also in terms of basketball is anyone outside of Duke or UNC any good?

You kiss moments like this goodbye Syracuse.

The Big East basketball conference is hands the best in the nation. At least 10 of it’s 16 teams have been in the top 10 in the last few seasons, the ACC has only had 3 Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest who is as bipolar as they come.

So in reality Syracuse downgraded itself in it’s number one sport of basketball and plays lesser competition on a smaller stage while the ACC gains a decent football program that is still trying to find it’s winning ways.

And as fans this is supposed to make us happy? Now instead of the magic of Madison Square Garden in March fans of the Orange and the Panthers get the Georgia Dome or Greensboro Coliseum? It’s like having your Benz repo’d and having to drive a Hyundai Elantra.

But this is what it’s coming to. Tradition is out the window an the AD’s and chancellors of your alma mater’s and favorite schools are putting money first. It’s not fun but change is always eminent even if it’s not for the best such as with this case.

I’m still an Orange fan no matter what though. It’s gonna hurt two years from now when there’s no more Big Monday showcase games, no brawls with St. John’s, no more payback games with Villanova and no gauntlets to run through where every game is a must see.

Syracuse had a great thing going in the Big East and they ruined it over money. Now everyone involved from the players, fans and The Big East conference has to suffer for it.


Hurricane Damage

U are in a lot of trouble.

Well damn Miami… way to one up every other NCAA program with your own violations.

North Carolina just had a couple of players take illegal benefits in one year; you had 72 in ten years.

Ohio State had players exchange tattoos for gifts, your guys got everything that sat in front of them; orgies, abortions, money… you sure there wasn’t a ki of coke just floating around there somewhere? I mean it is Miami.

Miami took the phrase go hard or go home a little too literally. The university is under investigation by the NCAA after Nevin Shapiro, who is serving a 20 year sentence for setting up a ponzi scheme that netted nearly $1 billion, pulled one of the biggest snitch jobs since Henry Hill brought down uncle Pauly in Goodfellas.

He told federal officials any and everything dirty about the school that he became a huge booster for in 2001.

Meet the man that brought down "The U"

Shapiro gave money, gifts, threw boat parties for players and set up elaborate sex parties for 72 different members of the school’s football since 2001. The list includes past players like Devin Hester, Jon Beason and Vince Wilfork and even an array of current players such as starting QB Jacory Harris.

It casts another dark cloud over an institution that had had more than its share of hard knocks and bad press over the course of its existence… the real question is are you really shocked?

“The U” has always toed the line of controversy and football since it was known as “Thug U” in the late 80’s and the early 90’s. The school was under heavy scrutiny years ago after a huge brawl against FIU that features a helmet swinging safety, a stomping of a kicker and more than a few punches thrown.

However, that misstep and its aftermath is a mere side dish to this heaping helping of trouble.

How in the wild blue yonder do you not know about a fifteenth of this? How does no one from Butch Davis to Randy Shannon to Frank Haith the basketball coach (oh yeah… The basketball team got some scratch too) not be the least bit suspicious in any of this? You always hear college coaches say that they can’t watch everyone every single second of the day, but you can at least be aware of some things.

The fact that the AD’s, staff and coaches were ignorant of all of the wrong doing that went on with Shapiro is downright laughable. They had to be aware of whom Shapiro was and all of the problems that come along with boosters as have been seen all around college sports.

Shapiro specifically had to have had a ton of red flags on him from the get go. I mean a few pictures of him partying with various ‘Canes like Hester and Kellen Winslow and pictures of players partying on his yacht had to float around the offices of Coral Gables at some point. They had to know this guy’s motives and why he always was around. The guy was called “Lil Luke” in homage to Miami rapper Luther Campbell because of how much of a huge fan he was of the Canes and because there were early rumblings that he was providing handouts to Canes players.

(Funny story; Campbell was part of an early investigation in the program in the early 90’s because he was being accused of the same things as Shapiro. Shapiro actually dimed Campbell during his confession saying that Campbell was still providing benefits to “The U” even though Campbell has denied having anything to do with the current scandal.

However, this is what I’m talking about with Miami. Why would you still deal with Campbell after the heat that he brought on your program already in previous years? Where’s the recognition by the AD and school chancellors that these people still have influence on these kids and why didn’t they keep a close eye on it?)

Miami AD Paul Dee and Donna Shalala should be ashamed of how this has happened.

As much as you can blame Shapiro, Campbell or anyone else that provided these extravagant extras it still falls on the school. The school knows about compliance, they know the rules and they know that that they have to keep an eye on anyone in or around the school that could bring trouble to the institution. They just didn’t care.

Once again we have to go back to this notion; these aren’t student athletes, they are not amateur athletes, they are money pots. Miami’s biggest money makers are the 80+ kids that rumble out onto the field every Saturday and put on a show for 60 minutes. The school needs them to make money, so in reality it doesn’t matter what they do off the field and honestly you know that the front offices don’t care. If they did, this wouldn’t happen.

So what should happen to “The U?” What should the NCAA do to the university after this embarrassment in a year full of dirty money, violations and constant reckless abandon for the rules?

Ever since Ohio State players sat at a table to answer questions about money for tattoos… no wait Auburn was questioned for pay for play… no North Carolina players were investigated for taking illegal gifts… no since USC… you see where I’m getting at?

Understand that no program is truly clean, heck, Boise State lost scholarships due to secondary violations this year, but this is ridiculous. College football is out of control and there has to be some sort of hammer laid down to prove a point. That’s why the NCAA has to throw the book at Miami and out every school on notice that this type of reckless behavior will not be tolerated.

The NCAA has to give Miami the death penalty.

But not the SMU 2 year penalty… Miami should get a 5 year sentence.

Come on now, ten years of unsolicited, out of control behavior with a laundry list of violations that would make Tony Montana blush. You can’t just punish Miami at this point, you have to make them pay and pay hard.

Since there was no care for the rules on their part then why should the NCAA care that Miami needs football to pay its bills? If you did care about rules and going about things the proper way then you would’ve done it. However, since Miami has no sense when it comes to the rules then they shouldn’t be allowed to play. Simple as that.

Will they get the death penalty? I don’t think so. Ohio State pulled the NCAA by its tails and got away, hell USC got off kind of easy with the Reggie Bush scandal. Miami will probably just lose scholarships, won’t be allowed to play in bowl games and lose some TV money and that’s it.

Former Cane Vince WIlfork is one of the 72 implicated players in the scandal.

I have no faith in the NCAA that they will do what’s right because they don’t do what’s right 85% of the time. Terrelle Pryor shouldn’t have played in the Sugar Bowl, Cam Newton shouldn’t have finished out the season at Auburn, Lane Kiffin shouldn’t have gotten off scot free at Tennessee… after all of that how can I have faith that they’ll get this right.

I feel bad for college sports right now. My buddy Andrea put up a Facebook status saying she’s “losing faith in college football” and “what happened to love for the game?” Who knows which program will get popped next, who knows what other dirty laundry will be exposed from some school. The game and the institution is broken and being run by a lot of ignorant entities as seen in the past year.

The NCAA may have one upped baseball when it comes to scandal. At least with steroids there was a solution and it has quietly moved to the back of the room. NCAA scandals are the elephant in the room, it’s not moving and no one is trying to make an effort to move it.

As the season approaches there is more talk about the “Year of the Scandal” instead of the chase for the national championship. We’re still talking about the “Tat 5,” North Carolina doesn’t have a clue what to think about this year’s team and now this. How much more scandal can the NCAA take after a year like this?

After reading an article on Shapiro he seems bitter that no one from Miami has contacted him, sent him money, or even cared about him in prison. That was part of his motivation to get snitch on the program and bring all of these revelations to light.

He thought Miami actually cared about him and that they would be there for him. He should’ve known that in college football the institution doesn’t care about the rules, or rule breakers. Miami had no regard for anyone but itself and walked all over the NCAA and in Shapiro’s own head him as well.

In turn the NCAA needs to do to Miami what Shapiro has already done to the school… bury them.


North Carolina Does The Right Thing

Dick Baddour did what Gene Smith couldn't do.

North Carolina did what Ohio State didn’t have the testicular fortitude to do; they fired their coach amid an NCAA investigation and other outstanding allegations while their AD stepped down in the process.

It didn’t matter that Butch Davis was the school’s most successful coach since Mack Brown in the 90’s, nor did it matter that he constantly said that he had no idea that his football team was running amuck. The school still held him responsible and told him to get to steppin.

I give now former AD Dick Baddour props for what he did yesterday. He swallowed his pride and admitted his mistake that Davis wasn’t worth the trouble that he was allowing to happen under his watch.

Baddour hired Davis to rebuild the North Carolina program in the way that he did with the University of Miami before Larry Coker took over. Davis recruited very well with future NFL-ers Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Hakeem Nicks standing out during his time there.

However, the school was caught in a huge scandal involving athletes receiving improper benefits from people outside of the program and more recently it came to pass that there were academic irregularities involving his players.

Davis continuously played dumb by stating that he had no idea of what was going on at the time and UNC went with it…

Until yesterday.

Davis cant play dumb any more.

Baddour fired Davis and then today stepped down as AD a year ahead of his retirement. He did so to ensure that the next coach wouldn’t have any conflict between his departure and the arrival of a new AD next year.

If only Gene Smith had the same level of care in his system.

This is what Ohio State should’ve done when it came time to discipline Jim Tressel. Sure Tressel was a highly successful coach and kept OSU in the top 10 nationally, but he was running a shoddy program.

Smith knew this and so did Gordon Gee. Instead of suspending him back when they knew of the violations they let all of 2010 play out, let him coach in the Sugar Bowl (not to mention let the players play), suspended him for two games, then only when the situation kept getting worse and worse did they finally allow him to step down or be forced out, whatever story you believe.

UNC didn’t let its recent success get in its way of making the right decision. It was clear that Davis was at fault for what was happening and it did the right thing by releasing him of his duties. Furthermore Baddour upped the ante by removing himself from his position due to the fact that all of this happened all of his watch.

The Tar Heels admitted their mistakes; the Buckeyes turn their dishonest leaders into martyrs.

North Carolina may not be on the same playing field as Ohio State when it comes to football, but rest assured the men in charge know what to do in a situation that calls for immediate action.

The Tar Heels will suffer in the short term on the field as they look for a new coach to get this team ready for football with only a month to prepare.

However, they should be the standard when it comes to disciplinary action. Their message to Butch Davis and any other coach that comes in is simple; hold others accountable for their actions as well as yourself. Success matters, but so does the integrity of the institution. If you can’t comply with both then you will not be a coach here.

I wish Ohio State would’ve taken that stance earlier this year.


Kentucky Returns To Where It Belongs

A sight that Kentucky fans have been for for a long time.

All of the expectations, the crazy hopes and dreams of Wildcat Nation, the hunger to win and to always be on top… turns out Kentucky was always right to feel that they should have better.

 

Kentucky beat North Carolina yesterday to head to its first Final 4 since Tubby Smith’s first season in Lexington in 1998. Since that national title year, Kentucky has become unconsciously unrealistic in their expectations of what and where their program should be. At least to u and I.

 

The constant criticism of Smith, the quick hook for Billy Gillespie, who was clearly in over his head, the need for a big time name to lead their program… it was maddening in every sense of the word to the average outsider.

 

But Kentucky always knew what it was worth. Its hopes and dreams were answered when John Calipari left Memphis after leading the Tigers during a great 10 year run to come to Lexington.

 

Calipari has long been considered one of the game’s best coaches and was the man that most felt could handle the enormous pressure that comes with being the coach at Kentucky. He also came with baggage and two vacated Final 4 appearances due to recruiting violations.

 

It was a huge risk for Kentucky to hire Calipari, but they knew in order for them to reach the mountain top they needed that kind of coach. In two years he hasn’t disappointed.

 

Last year’s stellar class featured John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and a slew of freshmen that led the Wildcats to the Elite 8 before falling to West Virginia and then bolting for the NBA. This year all Coach Cal did was reload with Terrance Jones, Doron Lamb, Brandon Knight and almost Enes Kanter before the NCAA ruled him ineligible.

 

Though not as touted as the last class, Kentucky’s fab freshmen led them to their second consecutive SEC tournament title and Knight in particular has been a savior for Kentucky in every possible way. Knight hit game-winning buckets against Princeton in round one and

Brandon Knight has eclipsed John Wall in equal time at Kentucky.

against Ohio State in the Sweet 16 to put them in a position to make the Final 4 and he dropped 30 on West Virginia in the second round to help them pull away and 22 against UNC.

 

Along with veterans Josh Harrelson and DeAndre Liggins, Kentucky has put together its most cohesive unit since the 2003 squad, which was heavily favored to win the national title but didn’t make it out of the second round.

 

Yesterday versus UNC you saw a team that didn’t melt down late in games like the previous Wildcat squads did under Smith or Gillespie. When UNC kept fighting back and Harrison Barnes started getting hot Knight and Liggins stopped them with huge 3’s late in the game and Darius Miller blocked a Barnes three point heave to seal it for Kentucky.

 

Once it was all said and done Kentucky returned to where it felt it always should be, the Final 4.

 

It took them three coaches, millions of questions and lots of criticism but Kentucky is right back where it belongs, in the Final 4 playing for a shot at its 8th national championship.

 

For some programs, 13 years since its last Final 4 would seem like a normal occurrence. At Kentucky they demand better. Looks like they weren’t so crazy after all.


Tourney Time!

The Buckeyes are the team to beat on the road to Houston.

With all due respect to the Colorado Buffaloes being 21-13, losing to Harvard, and San Francisco and beating such power houses like Maryland Eastern Shore and the Citadel don’t make you a tournament team. Even if you did beat Texas, Missouri and Kansas State three times.

 

I know you thought you should’ve been in but your yawn of a start didn’t make up for a flurry of a finish. I mean where do you think you are, the Big Ten?

 

As with every year the selection of the field of now 68 is not without some controversy. USC, Clemson and Penn State in, St. Mary’s, Missouri State and Virginia Tech out.

 

However, you must deal with it. The best part is now we can watch it all unfold in the way that a national champion should be rewarded, in a playoff. Hi BCS.

 

This year the field expanded to 68 teams, which essentially allowed three more crappy teams to make the field and create two more “Play-in” games to feed our growing appetites for basketball.

 

The field is pretty interesting. For the second straight year the number 1 seed overall gets the toughest bracket (Ohio State would love to trade with Pittsburgh right now) and Duke is a #2 disguised as a #1 (going to Anaheim 4 hours away from #2 San Diego State).

 

But this year there are 11 Big East teams, shattering the record of 8, a larger amount of mid-majors that could be primed for big runs (Oakland and Belmont), and about 9 teams that can win it all.

It would've been fun to watch St. mary's, but oh well.

As much as I like Ohio State their depth concerns me. As much as I like Duke location concerns. As much as I like Kansas their expectations concern me (I learned a long time ago that when everyone picks Kansas, pick against them). And as much as I like Pittsburgh I don’t think one Big East team can win this tournament…

 

But I think they’ll make it interesting.

 

I don’t expect much from the Big East except to kill a bunch of brackets and then fall. St. john’s, Marquette, West Virginia and Cincinnati could make someone’s life miserable and then fall the next game. The last thing I want to see being a top seed is a mid-level big east team waiting for them because disaster might ensue.

 

So what’s going to happen? Well before that, lets take a look at who should have and shouldn’t have made it.

 

ST. MARY’S 25-8

They won their conference, were ranked for last half of the season, played in a relatively decent conference and have a great history in the tournament and they played tough games versus St. John’s and BYU. Plus they had 25 wins (more on this later.).

 

MISSOURI STATE 25-8

They took Tennessee to the limit and won their regular season conference in the Missouri Valley, which year in and out is very competitive.

 

THE BIG TEN FOUR: PENN STATE (19-14), MICHIGAN STATE (19-14), ILLINOIS (19-13), MICHIGAN (20-13)

Here is my biggest problem with the tournament committee. It’s this thing called overvaluing a conference. The Big Ten was heralded as the best conference in the country and didn’t live up to it.

 

It was a top-heavy conference that featured three really good teams (Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin) and the rest of the conference was mediocre.

 

These four teams only got in because of their namesake. Critics will tell you that they played tough schedules and should be rewarded for how they played. Ok, I understand you play a tough schedule… BUT YOU LOST 13 GAMES, THAT MEANS YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD!

 

Two weeks ago Penn State was 15-13 including losses to Maine, Maryland and Ole Miss.

What do 14 losses, 3 20 point losses and no consistency all year get you.. a ticket to the dance of course.

Illinois was 6-9 in their last 15 and lost to UIC by 3.

 

Michigan lost every game they played versus a top 25 team and went 0-6 against the top 3 in their own conference.

 

And Michigan State lost by double digits to the following teams: Syracuse, Purdue, Iowa by 20, Wisconsin by 24, Ohio State, Purdue by 20 and Penn State.

 

And these four teams were worthy of not only making the tournament, but also avoiding the play-in games?

 

Why not include Northwestern?

 

I guess having Gene Smith at the head of the committee does wonders for your conference.

 

And now, the field (not covering the play-in games because those are the only game s that those teams are winning).

 

EAST REGIONAL

BEST TEAM: OHIO STATE

BEST PLAYER: JARED SULLINGER

DARKHORSE: NORTH CAROLINA

UPSET SPECIALS: MARQUETTE OVER XAVIER

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND- WASHINGTON-GEORGIA. DOWN THE ROAD: OHIO STATE-KENTUCKY

I thought as the number one seed in any playoff that you were supposed to have the least challenging field to deal with as reward for your regular season. Guess I was wrong.

 

OSU has to potentially play Kentucky and Syracuse or North Carolina on their way to the final four and all three teams are peaking right now and have an equal share of claim as the top team to contend for a trip to Houston.

 

The region is stacked as West Virginia is a potential roadblock for Kentucky and Washington could do damage to UNC or Syracuse. Also George Mason could pose a little bit of a threat to OSU in the second round with Cam Long looking to take advantage of freshman Aaron Craft.

 

This bracket is also the lottery showcase with UK’s Terrance Jones and Brandon Knight, OSU’s Jared Sullinger and UNC’s Harrison Barnes looking to make statements before they potentially put their names into the for June’s draft.

Looking for a lottery pick this June? Then this regional is for you.

You’ll also want to get a peak at UW’s Isaiah Thomas, Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Princeton’s Kareem Maddox. Thomas is a guard in the same vein of Nate Robinson while Tu Holloway is flashy point guard who can shoot the lights of any opponent and Maddox is a post up player who can score in buckets.

 

I like Ohio State to win the region but two things concern me, the lack of depth and lack of killer instinct. If Sullinger or Dallas Lauderdale gets into foul trouble then its slim pickings on that bench that runs seven deep at best.

 

The good news is Kentucky only rolls six deep and Syracuse and UNC flip flop between lots of bench production and dead weight.

 

FINAL 4: OHIO STATE

WEST REGIONAL

BEST TEAM: DUKE

BEST PLAYER: DERRICK WILLIAMS

DARKHORSE: SAN DIEGO STATE

UPSET SPECIALS: OAKLAND OVER TEXAS AND MEMPHIS OVER ARIZONA

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND: MEMPHIS-ARIZONA. DOWN THE ROAD: SDSU-UCONN

I really want to pick UCONN but playing 5 games in 5 days will catch up to them like playing 4 in 4 caught up to Syracuse years ago. UCONN matches up well with Arizona, Duke and SDSU potentially, but the wear and tear of the Big East season and tourney will affect them after the Bucknell game.

 

How does Mizzou feel about playing a Cincinnati team that’s playing it’s best ball of the year while they’re playing their worst? Mike Anderson’s team has had a miserable second half and should be a quick exit.

 

Oakland scares me as a dark horse sweet 16 team. They played a tough non-conference schedule, which included a win at Tennessee. Texas, Arizona or Memphis doesn’t have an answer for Keith Benson in the middle and he should put up big numbers.

 

This bracket has San Diego State’s name written all over it. Their athleticism should get them through the 2nd and 3rd rounds easily and they have the bodies to match up with UCONN in the sweet 16.

Don't be shocked if the Aztecs make a run.

If they play Duke though how will they respond? Duke’s defense and rotation of about 9 players will frustrate the Aztecs and the Devils experience outweighs their athleticism. Also with the way Nolan Smith has played all year I don’t see a guard in this tourney stopping him. Even Kemba Walker.

 

FINAL 4: DUKE

SOUTHWEST REGIONAL

BEST TEAM: KANSAS

BEST PLAYERS: BEN HANSBROUGH, MARKIEFF AND MARCUS MORRIS

DARKHORSE: LOUISVILLE

UPSET SPECIAL: RICHMOND OVER VANDERBILT

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND: VANDY0RICHMOND. DOWN THE ROAD: KANSAS-LOUISVILLE, NOTRE DAME-PURDUE, NOTRE DAME-LOUISVILLE, PUDRDUE-KANSAS

At first I thought that the Southeast region was the lightest. Then I looked at this region and though, “are there any good teams besides Kansas, Louisville or Notre Dame?” no.

 

This region has all the excitement of the Wisconsin-Penn State game on Friday.

 

Vanderbilt wont handle Justin Harper or Kevin Anderson and the inside out game that Richmond plays. Georgetown doesn’t know if Chris Wright will even contribute once he returns from his hand injury. And vastly superior competition next round will roast TAMU, FSU and UNLV.

 

Purdue however intrigues me. Etwan Moore and JaJuan Johnson pose a sizeable threat to the bracket with their experience but they lost to Richmond on neutral soil by 11 back in November and they were 0-3 on the road versus ranked teams this year. Plus they just lost by 18 to Michigan State in Indianapolis and they scares me more than any other stat.

If this man keeps his head, then the Irish can go far.

I like Louisville because they can score and defend and they get clutch performances from Kyle Kuric and Preston Knowles when needed. Also there aren’t better guards in this region than Knowles and Peyton Siva. They can take over a game and cause headaches for whoever plays them.

 

Kansas is Kansas. Arguably the most complete team in the nation, as they are athletic at all positions and deep. The Morris Twins are absolute monsters in the paint or on the wing and the team as a whole is an offensive juggernaut.

 

The problem with them is their consistency at all positions. I don’t trust Tyshawn Taylor at all and Josh Selby is still trying to fit into the offense. Plus in their two losses their lack of focus and execution murdered them and almost cost them against Nebraska, Iowa State and Michigan.

So I’m taking Notre Dame. Why? The fight in this team runs from top to bottom. They back down from no one in any situation. Look at the UCONN game two weeks ago when Ben Hansbrough fouled out of the game with 8 minutes left. They weathered the Kemba Walker hurricane and a raucous crowd to pull themselves together and pull out a huge win.

 

They can shoot anyone’s lights out and can overcome their lack of athleticism with their experience and hustle.

 

(Side note: this is all pending on whether or not Hansbrough can keep is head in check. He almost cost them the UCONN game and did cost them against Louisville at the Garden. When he’s on he’s the best shooter in the country, when he’s off his volatile nature becomes a huge detriment to the team. )

 

FINAL 4: NOTRE DAME

SOUTHEAST REGION

BEST TEAM: PITTSBURGH

BEST PLAYERS: JIMMER FREDETTE, JACOB PULLEN AND DWIGHT HARDY

DARKHORSE: ST. JOHN’S

UPSET SPECIALS: UTAH STATE OVER KANSAS STATE, BELMONT OVER WISCONSIN, GONZAGA OVER ST. JOHN’S AND WOFFORD OVER BYU

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND: ST. JOHN’S VERSUS GONZAGA. DOWN THE ROAD: ST. JOHN’S VERSUS KANSAS STATE, PITTSBURGH VERSUS ST. JOHN’S, KANSAS STATE VERSUS BYU

Um… yeah… this region is a cluster****.

 

The committee must’ve wanted to play head games with everyone with this region.

 

It’s technically a bunch of guard dependent teams who wouldn’t make the sweet 16 in any other region.

 

The top 4 seeds could either maker final four runs or be done before week 2. By the way, how in the blue hell did Florida get a 2 seed? Did the committee realize that they lost to UCF, Jacksonville, South Carolina, Mississippi State and got drilled by Kentucky on Sunday? Just saying.

 

The bottom line is that this will be he most fun region of the four. You’ll see Jimmer drop 40. Belmont rain three’s and Pitt bludgeon their teams to death.

 

However, I’m beyond interested to see how St. john’s does. Before D.J. Kennedy went down with a torn ACL I thought that they were a real final 4 contender. Then that happened and I backtracked. Now? I don’t know.

How far can the Johnnies go? This man holds the key.

I know that they depend on Dwight Hardy just as much as BYU depends on Jimmer, and that they struggle to find offense in some areas at times. But looking at this region I feel that it’s theirs for the taking. Except for their opening game against a peaking Gonzaga, the Johnnies can beat anyone in the bottom half of their bracket and for one game they can take out Pitt, K-State or Wisconsin.

 

But I’m taking K-State because Jacob Pullen pulled himself together and brought this team back from the dead. A month ago the Wildcats were NIT bound when Pullen stopped caring about the NBA and put the team on his back. Even with Wally Judge gone the Wildcats rallied behind Pullen and the inside tandem of Curtis Kelly and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and ran through Kansas, Missouri, and Texas on their way to this 5 seed.  Why stop now? Besides, Colorado aint playing so they don’t have to worry about playing a team they cant beat.

 

FINAL 4: KANSAS STATE

Yeah I know my final 4 is the same as the beginning of the year (except for Syracuse, stupid East regional.) but why turn away now? OSU, K-State and Duke are playing their best ball of the year and Notre Dame fulfills my Big East obligation. So you know that means that I’m sticking with the Buckeyes to win it all.

 

Ok enough talking, Thursday get here already (Tuesday for those interested in the “first round.”), let the games begin!

 

 

 


The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (NCAA Basketball Preview)

The Dukies look to go back-to-back for a second time.

In all of my madness and melancholy of covering football from college to the NFL I almost forgot what time of year it was… THE START OF THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON!!!

It happened last night as I was watching the Bengals season go down in flames (still can’t believe I picked them to win it all), I look over and what do I see? Number 4 ranked Pittsburgh taking on Rhode Island. Hmm, I love the excitement of the crowds, the college kids from the Oakland Zoo to the Little Apple to The Kennel all going crazy with the prospectus of their team somehow going for the glory come March.

You see college basketball trumps the NBA to me in so many ways; 1. The atmosphere, there are no places in the NBA like Cameron Indoor Stadium, Rupp Arena or Hinkle Field house. The crowds are right on top of you and the energy is surreal. Even when watching it on TV at half volume you can feel buzz, the stadium shaking, and the kids going bonkers. Maybe Madison Square Garden and maybe Arco Arena do that in the NBA and that’s it.

2. The rivalries. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kansas-K-State, Syracuse-UCONN or Duke-Maryland, every time interstate enemies or inter-conference rivals go at it its must see TV. Last year I watched Memphis play Tennessee in a down year for both programs and t didn’t matter. The game was still full of energy and passion and don’t turn your head away action that made for an awesome night especially when you’re procrastinating as to stall yourself from studying for a meaningless exam. Not that I ever did that in college.

Kansas- K-State. One of the many rivalries that make college basketball so awesome.

(speaking of which, the greatest sporting event from my college years had to be the 6 overtime marathon between the Cuse and UCONN about 20 months ago. I was struggling through that quarter of school badly, I’m talking Carolina Panthers quarterback situation badly, and I absolutely needed to focus on getting at least a 2.0 that quarter and it was finals week. So what did I do instead of study for an Italian final or write my medieval poetry final paper, I watched Jonny Flynn, A.J. Price and a cast of thousands go hard for nearly 4 hours of grueling basketball that left my roommate Ian wanting to kill me for yelling so loud at 1230am and had me up until 4am watching highlights and trying to figure out what the hell just happened. That one game is the reason you watch college basketball, because the unexpected is always bound to happen. You never know when the next ESPN Classic moment will happen. Side note: I did pass all of my finals that quarter but it wasn’t pretty. I blame the referee for blowing the Eric Devendorf call on the three that was clearly good before the buzzer and the fact that St. Patrick’s Day fell during finals week.)

3. The fact that college basketball is changing. The elite programs are still there… sort of. Last year UCLA, Arizona, UCONN and North Carolina DID NOT MAKE THE TOURNAMENT. Yeah you read that properly, four of college basketball’s best programs didn’t even sniff the tournament. There was a point in the tourney where we were looking at a final four that could’ve consisted of Northern Iowa, Butler, Xavier (hi Sean Miller) and Baylor. Yeah that’s where we are at. Granted UNC won it all in 2009 and Duke took home the crown last year, but the game itself is no longer the top heavy huge program dominated juggernaut it has been for the last 20 years.

The top 3 teams expected to make a run at the crown for this year are Duke, Michigan State and… KANSAS STATE! Yes the same Kansas State who you couldn’t name one single player from their roster for a 20 year period. The same Kansas State who wasn’t even a factor in the BIG 12 until Bob Huggins convinced a guy named Michael Beasley to come to Manhattan, Kansas three years ago and then left before Beasley arrived. The same Kansas State that was Kansas’s whipping post for every season that I’ve been alive and they are now viewed as the best team in Kansas. Time’s they are a changing.

What Frank Martin has done at K-State is amazing, he got great results from Beasley and Bill Walker and he is now able to bring in excellent recruits to Manhattan and leave the folks in Lawrence feeling a little salty. Led by Jacob Pullen and his beard and guys like Wally Judge and Curtis Kelly, the Wildcats have what it takes to overpower the Jayhawks and get to the Final 4. Yep, Kansas State, believe it.

Then of course there is last year’s darling the Butler Bulldogs who were two inches away from pulling off one of the greatest upsets sports has ever seen against Duke in the title game. The Dogs proved that they belong in the hunt for the crown for a long time to come with a run that stunned everyone in the sport that included wins over K-State, Syracuse and Michigan State. They return with no Gordon Haywood but pretty much same team from Ronald Nored and his tough defense and Matt Howard and his inside post game. They have replaced Gonzaga as the best little guy in the game and will be a tough draw in the tourney for anyone.

(With that said Gonzaga is ranked higher and with Robert Sacre at center they still aren’t a team to be messed with. Also the recruiting class they have for 2011 is stupid silly good. You think Mark Few is happy he stayed at Gonzaga instead of take the Kentucky job a few years ago? Yeah, me too.)

So what about the big dogs? Oh they’re just fine thank you. Ohio State behind one of the silliest recruiting classes including Jared Sullinger since the “Thad 5” is primed to go toe-to-toe with Sparty for the Big 10 and the national title. They have a date in November with SEC rival Florida which finally seems to have shaken the title hangover of a few years ago and are expected to rule the SEC this year behind do it all forward Chandler Parsons. They still have Kentucky hanging around in the background however. Yes they lost John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe and Enes Kanter is still awaiting eligibility pending an NCAA investigation (hmmm, another investigation involving John Calipari? No way), however they get another top flight point guard for John Calipari to groom in Brandon Knight and swingman Terrance Jones from Oregon. They’re young again but if anyone knows how to get the best out of a young squad then its John Calipari.

Now I know what you’re wondering, Kevin, you haven’t even begun to wax poetic over the Mighty Big East yet. You know the conference you love so much that you’re willing to through any other program under the bus when playing them. You know the conference that you think is so much better than everyone else but last year underachieved in mostly every big out of conference matchup. Yeah yeah yeah I know. I know they struggled last year with off years by UCONN, Georgetown and Louisville and honestly past Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh every team is the same. G’Town, Marquette and Seton Hall all have shots to make an impact behind guys like Austin Freeman, Jeremy Hazell and others and Steve Lavin may finally bring St. John’s back to where it belongs in the picture of college basketball. Yet I’m not sold that the conference is better than the Big 10 who have 3 teams who could make a Final 4 run including Purdue who I think is getting undervalued because of the loss of Robbie Hummel. In the Big East I think only Syracuse and maybe Pitt has a shot at the Final 4. However, even though it might be a down year for the conference the games will still be a blast to watch.

Something about the words Melo and Syracuse just sounds good together.

(Side note: I really like this Syracuse team. They are deeper than last year’s squad and they have a guy in the middle that will be a huge problem for everyone in the future, Fab Melo. Hmmm, an impact freshman in Syracuse named Melo? Smiley face.)

However with all of that said, from the little guys to the big ones, from the “Thad 5” part two to the beard, from Indianapolis to Spokane the two teams to beat come from tobacco road and (ugh) the ACC, Duke and UNC.

Duke brings back everyone from last year’s team including the soon to be player of the year Kyle Singler and they get Kyrie Irving, a lightning quick guard, and Seth Curry, yep there’s another one of them running around. Plus the Plumlee twins return to roam the middle with their size and athleticism which is going to be a problem for anyone to handle.

As for UNC you knew that last year’s flame out was only an aberration. Roy Williams returns with a team that has a year of experience under its wing, a healthy Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes one of the most talked about freshmen in the nation. Barnes as well as Reggie Bullock should help shoulder the load left by Ed Davis and the Wear twins who transferred to Stanford.

Both Duke and UNC should have little trouble running the ACC with one exception, Maryland might be back. Gary Williams has escaped the firing that seemed eminent years ago and has his best team since the Steve Blake, Juan Dixon days.  Sean Mosley and Jordan Williams provide a great in and out game and Mychal Parker and Pe’Shon Howard will provide some pop off of the bench.  If he can find the right rotation for this team then it should be happy times in Gary-land for the Terps.

With all of this said who should be playing in the Final 4 come March? How about Duke, Ohio State, K-State and Syracuse with Ohio State winning it all. No it’s not a cop out because I went to OSU it’s because OSU has the best mix of under classmen and youth of any team in the nation. David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale and Willie Buford all return to blend with the aforementioned Sullinger, Jordan Siebert and Deshaun Thomas. I think Michigan State is a tad overrated with no Kalin Lucas and the Buckeyes should steamroll through the tough Big 10 behind their talent level and Thad Motta’s defensive scheme.

So there you go, even in the changing landscape of college basketball where the little guys are getting bigger, the top dogs still reign supreme. However, don’t be surprised if everything I said gets blown to smithereens and the landscape changes again. That’s the beauty of the college game, and I’m so happy that it’s back.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR- KYLE SINGLER

BIG EAST WINNER-SYRACUSE (SLEEPER: VILLANOVA)

ACC- DUKE (MARYLAND)

BIG 12- KANSAS STATE (TEXAS)

BIG 10- OHIO STATE (ILLINOIS)

PAC 10- WASHINGTON (ARIZONA)

SEC- FLORIDA (TENNESSEE)

THE NEXT BUTLER- San Diego STATE

ATLANTIC 10- XAVIER (mark my words; you will take the A-10 seriously again. The league is too good to be considered a mid-major)