Thursday, March 22, 2012

Road to the Final Four: How Sweet It Is..

You didn't think that I would let the entire madness of March go by without writing a blog on college basketball, did you? The truth is - I've been watching college basketball with one eye half opened the past couple of months rooting desperately for my alma mater, Drexel to not only make the tournament but to make some noise a la VCU or George Mason in years past. It's simply not in my blood to brag - I like to stay humble when things are going well, so writing about them would have felt downright uncomfortable. I also didn't want to ruin the built up just don't mess with a good thing. It's like talking about a perfect game in baseball, or mentioning that there's no way your team could lose when they're up by 4 points with the ball and only 13 seconds just don't do it. Or at least I don't. 

For the Dragons - things went great phenomenal this season. School record 29 Wins, the nation's second longest win streak (19), some impressive individual accolades, and 2 memorable wins at home during the NIT have given this team a lot to be proud of and a future that is as bright as I can remember. However, after Tuesday Night's loss to UMass at home - I was left with an unusual feeling. What a great run this season has been - but I thought to myself, perhaps the committee got it right in leaving us out? In the midst of blowing a 17 point second half lead, I saw us get out-coached, out-hustled, certainly out-played, out-manned (only 7 guys log significant minutes), and worst off all... out of the invitational tournament. While part of me is saddened that Drexel's lone Senior Samme Givens didn't get a chance to dance - part of me is hopeful that the bittersweet end to this season leaves a foul taste that will motivate the 2012-13 Dragons for bigger and brighter outcomes.

With no games left for the Dragons to play this season - this feels like the perfect time to get involved with the remainder of the College Basketball season - maybe even make some money back on the games that I lost wagering for the Dragons to make the NCAA tourney. Without further ado - here's how I hope the Sweet 16 plays out this weekend:

Thursday, March 22nd (East and West Regionals)
#1 Syracuse (3.5) vs. #4 Wisconsin, 7:15 ET - CBS (Boston, MA)
Preview: Syracuse did well to avoid becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed when they snuck by UNC Asheville, 72-65 last Thursday. No Fab Melo means that Wisconsin will have the edge in the paint (insert racial joke about Wisconsin players being overtly White). No but seriously, Syracuse has not looked like the impressive team that has gotten them to the No. 2 overall team in the country. They have the depth to contend for a national championship, but quite frankly I think too many off court distractions (Not going to class, Boeheim calling Charles Barkley an "Idiot", child abuse scandals, etc.) will be their downfall. I'll roll with the Badgers in this one.

Prediction to Cover: Wisconsin, 65-61

#1 Michigan State (-5) vs. #4 Louisville, 7:47 ET - TBS (Phoenix, AZ)
Preview: Louisville coach, Rick Pitino cracks me up. I really can't take Louisville seriously when their coach is having 15 second escapades with hookers and their point guard Peyton Siva has been playing college basketball for 7 straight seasons. I'll roll with Sparty to advance.

Prediction to CoverMichigan State, 68-59

#2 Ohio State (-7.5) vs. #6 Cincinnati, 9:45 ET - CBS (Boston, MA)

Preview: So its the first time in tournament history that a single state has had 4 different schools represented in the sweet 16. If you couldn't figure out which state it is from the matchup in bold above, I don't know what to tell you. The Bearcats of Cincy have been on a torrid run as of late - playing all types of boring basketball by lulling teams to sleep with great defense and poor shot selection. Honestly, I have no idea how they made a run to the Big East championship and then beat Texas and Florida State in consecutive games. Yancy Gates has been a great turnaround story, but my guess is he and his teammates will have to turn back around to Ohio after this game. Take the Buckeyes.

Prediction to Cover: Ohio State, 74-58

#3 Marquette (-2) vs. #7 Florida, 10:17 ET - TBS (Phoenix, AZ)

Preview:  I should have probably come out with this a little bit earlier, but my sleeper pick for this years final four at the outset of the tournament was the Florida Gators. For those keeping track at home - that's a loud warning to bet Marquette here. I still like the Gators in this matchup - but the Golden Eagles will absolutely be a tougher foe than Virginia and Norfolk State. Senior F Jae Crowder, Big East player of the year, and G Darius Johnson-Odom will be about all Florida can handle - but if the Gators can get key contributions from their 3 point specialist Kenny Boynton (6th in the nation with 106 3's) and significant numbers from their Freshman standout Patric Young I have faith that the Gators can come out victorious again. I'll take Billy Donovan and the Gators to sneak into the elite 8.

Prediction to Cover: Florida, 74-72

Friday, March 23rd
#3 Baylor (-6) vs. #10 Xavier, 7:15 ET - CBS (Atlanta, GA)

Preview:  Xavier cost me a pretty penny with their antics in the A-10 tournament against St. Bonaventure's. Naturally I was rooting for Xavier to keep another out of the tournament and they got spanked. How do they repay me? A spot in the sweet 16 to remind me that I have no idea how sports work. Its only natural that they lose the A10 championship game, then reel off wins against a solid Big East team, Notre Dame (73-63), and everyone's favorite Cinderella team, Lehigh (70-58). Tu Holloway is probably the only guy on the Muskateers that you've heard of - they also have a huge ogre named Kenny Frease who is exceptional at taking up space down low and not much else. It's analysis like this that keeps me wondering why I don't get paid for this. 
For me - I'm still too bitter to back Xavier, so I'll roll with Baylor who I'm told has 3 NBA prospects on their team. 

Prediction to Cover: Baylor, 73-66

#1 UNC (-10.5) vs. #13 Ohio, 7:47 ET - TBS (St. Louis, MO)

Preview:  I'm not worried about UNC losing this game. I am worried that they'll look sloppy and uncoordinated without their elmer's-glue, PG Kendall Marshall. When you lose a guy that means so much to your team in every facet of the game it's not easy to just 'deal with it' like Coach Roy Williams has said they will. When Syracuse loses a player like Fab Melo they get by because he only specializes in one thing, defending the rim. When UNC loses a guy like Kendall Marshall who runs the half-court offense and fast break better than anyone in college basketball you remove a vital block to UNC's success this year. Like I said, UNC should have no problems with Ohio - but that Elite 8 matchup looming against either NC State or more likely, Kansas, isn't looking like such a safe bet anymore. Take the Heels to win, but the Bobcats to cover.

Prediction to Cover: Ohio, 65-74

#1 Kentucky (-9) vs. #4 Indiana, 9:45 ET - CBS (Atlanta, GA)

Preview:  Kentucky's sole regular season blemish came at the hands of Indiana back in December. The only other blemish for Kentucky this season has been Anthony Davis' uni brow (badddom bum bshh). The Wildcats have 3 of the top 10 prospects in the NBA in their starting lineup which gives them the edge in talent over just about every team in the tournament with the exception of maybe a healthy Tar Heels team. Indiana will have to rely heavily on big man Cody Zeller to give them the game of his life and hope that they can keep this close coming down the stretch for some late game magic. I just don't see it happening. With Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Terrance Jones - the Wildcats have way too much firepower to lose twice to Indiana in one season. Take Kentucky in this one and expect a lot of close-ups of Ashley Judd. 

Prediction to Cover: Kentucky, 78-62

#2 Kansas (-8) vs. #11 N.C. State, 10:17 ET - TBS (St. Louis, MO)

Preview:  Not a bad way to close out the Sweet 16. The Jayhawks are coming off a 63-60 win against Purdue in a game in which they held the lead for a whopping 45 seconds. The Wolfpack are coming off an impressive victory over a Georgetown team that I thought was prepared to make a deep run. An upset is possible here, but not likely. Kansas gets to rely on their All American PF Thomas Robinson and Senior PG Tyshawn Taylor to pick up the slack for their poor performance against Purdue. Both teams score a lot so I'd expect a high scoring affair, with Kansas setting up a rematch against former coach Roy Williams and UNC in the Elite 8.

Prediction to Cover: N.C. State, 77-82


Since I doubt I'll have the time or the foresight to write my predictions for the elite 8 matchups - here are my updated Final Four Teams assuming everything goes to plan above:

South - Kentucky over Baylor
West - Florida over Michigan State
East - Ohio St. over Wisconsin
Midwest - Kansas over UNC

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

Season Record: 19-7
Warning: I've wagered a lot of games since my last college basketball post (2/8) and lost a LOT since then.  It's a good thing gambling hasn't been legalized in NJ...yet

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