Thursday, March 29, 2012

We are not the Champions, my Friend

Well that was anticlimactic. At least it doesn't really matter though, it's still just the NIT.  I know getting your doors blown off by a bunch of poindexters isn't exactly the ideal way to end your season, but at least we aren't getting cheated out of another game - I mean they're done either way.  I think I know the answer to the eternal question "Win the NIT or lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament" if I didn't already, and it's emphatically losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  Even if the Gophers had won this game I wouldn't look back on this season fondly as a team who won the NIT, I'd look back on it as a wasted season when a team with enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament squandered it, blew several games it should have won, and end up in the yucky tournament instead.  That's not to say there aren't good things about the NIT, however.

Think about what we know now that we wouldn't have if the Gophers didn't get these five games.  At the end of the season I felt pretty good about Dre Hollins future.  Post-NIT I feel absolutely great about it, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him make an All-Big 10 First Team at some point in the future.  Throwing out the Stanford game (and we're going to ignore that for pretty much everything from here on down) he was dominant.  He has an ability to get to the rim that nobody else has on this squad which is especially handy when you're a 92% free throw shooter and has an outstanding mid-range jumper.  He's not the best three-point shooter but he's not bad at all for a freshman, and his percentages should get even better as he gets more experience and figures out how to get and when to take better shots.  As long as he can get a handle on those turnovers (and tonight was simply awful) he's going to be a star.

At the end of the regular season, I thought Rodney Williams had taken a small step forward in his game and at least had a chance at realizing some of that potential we've heard so much about going back to his high school days.  Now, post-NIT, I've come to realize that instead of hoping he takes a step forward we should be more concerned about him taking a step back, because this NIT version of Williams is exactly what we've been waiting for.  It's like something suddenly clicked and the flashes he'd shown all season suddenly became one great big shining supernova of dunkatronation.  When he's on and feeling confident he's unstoppable.  Any time he gets the ball inside the 3-point line, even on the perimeter, his athleticism means he can get to the rim any time he wants and it looks like he's figuring that out.  Hell, he even added a little bit of a perimeter game which can only help as long as he doesn't go all Rickert on the bit and fall in love with the jumper.  If he works all off season on making his jumper more reliable - even out to 15 feet, say - and learns when to go all the way to the rim on the drive and when to pull up (and how to hit) a floater or short jumper he's a guaranteed all Big 10er.  I honestly believe he's got player of the year potential, but of course that's the poisoned word with Rodney - "potential."  But we've seen it now, hopefully he can put it together for a full season.

Those obviously are the big two, but Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman have thrived on the wing as well.  Neither are the best at getting their own shot (at least not yet at this level) so playing in a more wide open offense like the one the Gophers have adopted in this tournament can only help them score since both are good athletes who can score in transition.  Hollins also continues to hit that elbow jumper curling off a screen at a high percentage, and I've gone from meh on him to pretty happy he's here.  Same with Elliott Eliason, who I was convinced was going to be a waste of a scholarship and never develop into a Big 10 caliber player, but in this post-NIT world I've decided I like him.  He must have a serious confidence problem because when he knows the post is his for the game (any time Sampson has been injured) he plays with confidence and enthusiasm and a kind of reckless abandon that is missing when he's looking over his should ever 30 seconds, terrified to make a mistake and get pulled from the game.  And the post is pretty much his next year, so they'll need to the good version.  Hell, even Andre Ingram went from "worthless other than his five fouls" to "quality back-up."  In the five NIT games he scored 8+ points three times and grabbed at least four rebounds in four of them.  I never would have guessed he had it in him.

So yeah, I don't care about the loss other than how sloppy they played, but getting these five extra games were huge for this team and showed the value of the NIT to a young team who takes this tournament seriously, and Tubby seemed to be having fun (and thus was fully engaged) for this run, which can only help next year.  Add in the possibility of Trevor Mbakwe coming back and the chance that Trent Lockett transferring in and there is a lot of reason for optimism, something that's been missing from Gopherland since, what, Tubby's second year?

Now that being said, keep a couple of things in mind.  First, and most importantly, don't forget that the teams the Gophers beat during this run, as well as the team that beat them, are thoroughly mediocre teams.  Washington, Middle Tennessee, and Miami were all bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament who didn't make the cut, while Stanford and LaSalle had no shot.  Some of the teams these guys lost to this year were embarrassing - Fordham, Arkansas State, Robert Morris, Oregon State, Maryland, etc.  Then there's the real problem where the first time this team ran into a real defense (Stanford was the only top 50 defensive efficiency team) their previously clicking on all cylinders offense suddenly turned into a garbage factory.  Not a great sign.  Additionally as great as the addition of Mbakwe for next year would be there's always the chance it causes Rodney to go back into his shell and disappear too often again when he's not a focal point of the attack.

So yeah, there are plenty of reasons for optimism going into next season, but just make sure you temper it and don't start declaring them a Sweet 16 team just yet.  I mean come on, this is still Minnesota - I can't wait to see what goes wrong first.

Monday, March 26, 2012

NIT Preview - Gophers vs. Washington

Woo-wee, who's excited for this one?  I certainly am, and although you'd probably assume it (and be right most of the time) that's not sarcasm - I'm legitimately fired up for this game.  Not because it's the NIT Final Four because that's a pretty meh accomplishment still, but because Washington is fun as hell to watch.  They're the embodiment of everything circus ball, and even without Captain Circus Ball himself (Isaiah Thomas, now captaining Circus Ball with the Kings) they still manage to push that tempo, ranking 30th in the country in overall pace.  And they're always consistent with it, never ranking worse than 57th in the past 10 years with three top-10 finishes and seven in the top-30.

No other big conference team, outside of North Carolina under Roy Williams, consistently plays like this.  Missouri had a nice run under Mike Anderson, but both prior to and after him they slow it down considerably (this year's team, which seemed kind of circus ball-y, was actually middle of the pack).  The only other teams, period, with a sustained run of craziness are the smaller schools like VMI and Alcorn State, so watching Washington play will be a treat.  I suppose that's what happens when a crazy circus ball coach like Lorenzo Romar lands at a place where they're plenty ok with mediocrity like Washington.  And we are all better for it.

What makes this doubly exciting is that Tubby has taken off the reigns and accepted the fact that this is a guard-oriented squad now, especially with Ralph out (he's still out, right?  RIGHT?) and let 'em run.  In case you're worried about it being a mirage, looking at the total possessions of the NIT games the Gophers + Opponent have had 67, 64, and 69 in the three games.  That 69 and 67 are the #2 and #3 (tied) most possessions of any Gopher games this year, behind just that silly DePaul game early in the year.  They're now playing uptempo (well, top 100 tempo at least), Washington plays super uptempo and gets team's to join them, and as long as Tubby doesn't get in the way we should be looking at a super spastic, circus ball scoring fest.  I'm thinking both teams in the 80s, so I'm heavily invested (for an NIT game) in that OVER 143.5, and I suggest you do the same.

Looking deeper at Washington it should come as little surprise based on the way they play that they are loaded with athletes, beginning with their top two scorers - PG Tony Wroten (16.2 ppg) and swingman Terrence Ross (16.3 ppg).  Both were big-time recruits (Wroten #14 this year, Ross #48 last year by Rivals) and both project to be mid-first round picks if they enter the draft after this season.

Wroten is the new Captain Circus Ball and is interesting because he can't shoot at all (16% from 3 and very little mid-range game) but can get to the rim nearly at will and is nearly impossible to guard even if he usually gets played off in a Rondo-esque fashion (he's also Rondo-like from the line at 58%).  Think a smaller Rodney Williams who already knows how to get to the rim whenever he wants.  Ross, on the other hand, has a real nice all-around game and can score from pretty much anywhere.  The good news for Minnesota is both have a tendency to disappear (Wroten 2 pts vs. Northwestern on only 5 shots, Ross 2 pts vs. Wash State on only 5 shots a month ago).  The bad news is that Ross is having a Rodney Williams-like string right now, averaging 26 points per in the 3 NIT games, including 32 vs. Northwestern.  I have no idea how the Gophers will stop either of these guys.

To make things worse, the Huskies also trot out C.J. Wilcox on the wing who was 7th in the Pac-10 in both 3-pointers made (64%) and 3-point percentage (41%).  About half of his shot attempts are from behind the arc, so he's not completely dependent on it to score, but when Washington is running their break, which they will do constantly, if he doesn't have a clear lane he'll find a place to spot up and nail it if he's open.  Despite the Gophers nice little NIT win streak they haven't magically figured out how to stop the three, and with Wilcox and Ross on the wing they're going to have to be careful not to get lit up in a hurry.

Two other dudes worth mentioning are PG Abdul Gaddy, who leads the team in assists but still isn't back to his old self (was the #2 ranked PG out of school in his class behind John Wall) after tearing his ACL, and C Aziz N'Diaye who, you'd probably guess, is a seven-foot defensive specialist with very little offensive game.  I'm looking forward to seeing Rodney Williams dunk on his face.

It should be a fun game of up-and-down the court basketball between two evenly matched and evenly motivated (Washington won the regular season Pac-12 title but didn't get an NCAA invite after losing to Oregon State in the P12 tournament) teams.  If the Gophers can take care of the basketball at the frenetic pace Washington will likely dictate this will be a close game.  Unfortunately the Gophers still turn it over too often and the Huskies are good when it comes to creating turnovers in the chaos, so I think Minnesota ends up turning it over a bit too much, but look for a close, super awesome to watch game with Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams continuing their big-time scoring runs.

Washington 85, Minnesota 80.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gopher Notes on a Sweet 16 Thursday

-  Obviously the Sweet 16 is the big news tonight, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention at least a couple of Gopher related items - this NIT Final Four berth and the Trent Lockett news.

First, it's still the NIT.  No matter what, it's the NIT, but I will say that I'm actually starting to care.  The first win at LaSalle was an ok win.  The win at Miami was pretty worthless because it was clear neither the Miami team nor their fans cared to be there, but there was some merit in blowing a team out like that.  Now the win over Middle Tennessee?  You can officially call that a very good win, and the whole string taken together is a nice little run.  Middle Tennessee was the Sun Belt regular season champion with an RPI of 74 who probably would have made the NCAA Tournament if they hadn't lost in the first round of the conference tournament and lost only once before at home this season.  Not to mention a program like that isn't going to just go through the motion in the NIT like Miami, because when are the Blue Raiders going to have another chance to play on a national stage like Madison Square Garden?  This was a talented team, a motivated team, and a strong home team and the Gophers beat them and controlled the game.

I'm not even sure who to be the most impressed with, because there's a lot going right here.  Rodney Williams seems to have figured out how to take his limitless athleticism and use it to create easy buckets for himself, because he's scored 20+ in four straight games and has shot 34-48 in that stretch, and no that's not a mis-type.  Outside of the LaSalle game he's 25-31.  I mean.  Jesus.

And as much as I'm falling for Rodney all over again, Andre Hollins might be my true new love. I'm telling you man, my comparison of him to Russell Westbrook is pure genius, because he's got like, the same kind of game.  Fearless, either driving to the rim or with his jumper, lightning quick, and just an incredible leader already and he's just a freshman.  He's currently running a seven game streak of scoring in double figures with three of those games over 20.  I don't know if he'll ever become a true distributor, but I don't know if he really has to considering we're just talking college success here.  One thing is for certain - he's the kind of kid you can build a team around.  As long as him, his brother Austin, and Rodney are around next year this team has as decent shot at getting back to the NCAAs, especially if Elliott Elliason can play more like he did against MTSU (12 pts/7 rebs) instead of like he did against LaSalle/Miami (1 pt/4 rebs combined) and Mo Walker comes back and can play.  If Tubby lets them play this wide open style.

And that's the last person I need to mention being impressed with, because Tubby seems more engaged in this tournament than he did in the last month and it shows.   Even more impressive is he's shifted his philosophy or whatever you want to call it and it's playing to the strengths of his team.  They're playing at a faster tempo (at least it seems like it, I was going to actually look up the numbers but I can't find them and am too lazy to calculate it myself) and that's played to the strength of a young team that's loaded with guards.  He's also been willing to play his core far more minutes per game with four players on the floor for 30+ minutes against MTSU and three each against LaSalle and Miami.  It's been a whole different team the last three games, and a big part of that is it's been a whole different coach.  Or maybe this is all just a function of Ralph Sampson being out?  Whatever it is, it's been a fun preview of next year's squad and it's not over yet.  The next game might be the most fun yet, because Washington is up and down in a hurry and the kings of circus ball.  With the new uptempo Gophers we might be looking at a 85-80 type game.  Good times.

-  The other Gopher news worth talking about is the speculation that Trent Lockett might be coming home.  Lockett's a shooting guard from Hopkins who graduated in 2009 and was ranked by Rivals as the #80 recruit in the country and #19 shooting guard and he chose Arizona State for some reason which I can only assume was the super mega hot chicks down there and they gave him the Jesus Shuttlesworth treatment.  Anyway, his mom is really sick and he's looking to transfer back home to be closer to her.  The Gophers technically don't have a scholarship available, and many people (on the gopherhole at elsewhere) are saying that Lockett can't/shouldn't/won't come here because either the Gophers already have too many guards or that it isn't fair to take someone else's scholarship away just because Lockett is a better player.  Too those people I say STFU.

I can't decide which reason is more idiotic.  That Lockett, who has scored 13+ ppg both of the last two years and hit over 41% of his treys this year, would be afraid to come here because Austin Hollins or Chip Armelin would steal all his playing, is ludicrous.  Assuming there's no miracle sixth year for Mbakwe, Lockett would immediately become either the second or third best player on the team, depending on where you want to put Dre Hollins.  Playing time concerns aren't going to keep him out of here.  And as far as it being a dick move to take someone's scholarship and give it to him, yeah, I agree it is kind of a dick move but you know what?  Who cares?  Guess what the basketball team's job is?  To win games.  I suppose it's also their job to get kids to graduate, but only in so much as it keeps them eligible to play and help win games.  Who is going to help the Gophers win more, Lockett or Andre Ingram?  Exactly.  Sorry Andre, you seem like a nice kid and I bet you were really something before you destroyed your knee (I'm not making this up, right?) but it's time to pay your own way.

Also ha ha Wisconsin guess who is still playing when you aren't?  Gophers totally win this season.

[EDIT:  According to twitter all of a sudden, and all the caveats that entails, Trevor Mbakwe has indeed been granted a medical redshirt and will be eligible to play next year.  I'd comment more on this, but my raging boner is getting in the way.  I'm sure I'll write something when the news becomes official unless I'm too drunk]

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

American League Central Preview

Another NCAA Tournament is almost over with my bracket in shreds, so just as naturally as girls starting to wear tank tops and short shorts my thoughts turn to baseball and those beloved sucks the Twins.  After last year's nightmare, can they compete this year in the Central?  The best way to know is to know your opponents, so here's what each of the AL Central squads did this offseason to change things up.

Adds:  OF Kosuke Fukudome, 1b Dan Johnson, RP Eric Stults
Deletes:  SP Mark Buehrle, RP Jason Frasor, OF Juan Pierre, OF Carlos Quentin, IF Omar Vizquel, RP Sergio Santos

The most confusing team in the division and, barring significant injuries to the others, probably the worst, the White Sox are pretty clearly in rebuilding mode this year.  Except when they aren't, like when they traded Santos, a young (28), near dominant closer (1.11 WHIP, 13 K/9ip, 30 saves), coming off a career year who is signed to a reasonable contract with club options through 2017.  They did get a decent prospect in return but there's no guarantee he ends up even close to what Santos already gives you.  A puzzling move, but a clear sign that the Sox are full on rebuilding.  At some point this season the fire sale will likely begin with Paul Konerko, Gavin Floyd, and Jesse Crain all likely to go.  They'd love to jettison Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Jake Peavy as well, but it's going to be a bitch trying to find somebody to take any of those contracts.

There are some good pieces to build upon here with 3b Brett Morel poised for a possible breakout season along with converted reliever Chris Sale who has absolutely filthy stuff and will try his hand in the rotation this year.  There are also a couple youngsters who will get first crack at starting in the outfield in Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro de Aza, but they better hope they're able to get a nice haul when they start trading players off because their farm system is in a complete shambles and they've got way too much money committed to way too many shitty players.  This could be the first in a long losing streak for the Sox, and I hope so because these assholes deserve it.

CLEVELAND INDIANSAdds:  RP Jeremy Accardo, 1b Casey Kotchman, 3b Andy LaRoche, OF Fred Lewis, SP Derek Lowe, RP Chris Ray, OF Felix Pie, OF Ryan Spillborghs, RP Dan Wheeler, RP Robinson Tejeda, SP Kevin Slowey
Deletes:  OF Travis Buck, OF Kosuke Fukudome, RP Chad Durbin, IF Adam Everett, RP Justin Germano, OF Austin Kearns, DH Jim Thome

I'm a big fan of what the Indians have done this year - of course I'd be an even bigger fan if Fausto Carmona wasn't in legal trouble and Grady Sizemore wasn't hurt for the 19th year in a row - but they've done some really nice things.  You'll notice they lost a lot of players from last year's roster, but you'll also notice they all suck outside of Thome, and if you take a look at what they're bringing in that's a really interesting group with a lot of upside.  Accardo, Ray, and Wheeler were all elite relievers at one point, and Spillborghs and Pie can help fill in for Sizemore, but the biggest prizes were Kotchman (who will start immediately) and Lowe (who becomes their #3 starter).

The most exciting part about the Indians is they have a chance to have the best young infield in all of baseball.  SS Asdrubel Cabrera is already elite and 2b Jason Kipnis and 3b Lonnie Chisenhall both sound like wieners but both have a chance to reach that tier as well, and C Carlos Santana is already one of the best baseball hitters in the game.  The guy really mucking things up is Matt LaPorta, who was the centerpiece of the package the Indians got from Milwaukee when they traded C.C. Sabathia, but instead of being a stud he's been a big time dud, failing to hit over .255 in any season with very little power.  Basically he's Joe Mauer without the batting average.  Or Nick Punto without the speed or fielding.  Real valuable player, is what I'm trying to say.

Adds:  1b Prince Fielder, RP Octavio Dotel, C Gerald Laird
Deletes:  3b Wilson Betemit, 2b Carlos Guillen, OF Magglio Ordonez, SP Brad Penny, RP Ryan Perry, 2b Will Rhymes, RP Joel Zumaya

They didn't add much, but they added a ton at the same time.  You know about Fielder, and say what you want about the defense taking a hit with Miguel Cabrera back at the hot corner, but that is one hell of a 1-2 punch in the lineup.  That signing will get most of the press, but don't forget about Dotel.  He's been an elite level set-up guy for nearly a decade now and last season might have been his career best.  He's going to be the 7th inning guy next year, which means at the end of games (at least ones Verlander doesn't pitch) you'll be looking at Dotel (0.98 WHIP), Joaquin Benoit (1.05), and Jose Valverde (49-49 saves last year).  Shortened game indeed.

If you're looking for negatives, go ahead and latch on to the fact that one popular theory is that pitching and defense win championships, and that's where the Tigers have big questions.  Behind Verlander the rotation is a bunch of question marks (and there's no way Fister is that good again) and as long as Jacob Turner doesn't become a stud (and he might) there will be questions all season.  Plus of the 9 projected starters (assuming Fielder, Cabrera, and Delmoney all share time at DH) only Austin Jackson would be considered anything other than a terrible fielder (although Ryan Raburn is a good outfielder, he's slated to play 2b this year lololol).  So go ahead and latch on to that hope.  Although you're only kidding yourself because the Tigers will probably have this wrapped up by September 1.

Adds:  SS Yuniesky Betancourt, RP Jonathan Broxton, 3b Kevin Kouzmanoff, RP Jose Mijares, SP Jonathan Sanchez
Deletes:  OF Melky Cabrera, SP Jeff Francis, C Jason Kendall, RP Robinson Tejada

Well here we go.  This is where the Royals start to make their move.  All of the talk about their incredible minor league system and all the young talent they have starts to prove itself this year.  They've transferred most of it to the majors, and Billy Butler, Alex Gordon (finally), Alcides Escobar, and Eric Hosmer have proven themselves ready to go, while Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Johnny Giavotella, and Salvador Perez are now in the majors and will get their shot to stick.  To compliment them KC is making the right moves, trading expendable parts (Melky Cabrera) to upgrade the starting pitching (Sanchez) and signing smart veterans to back-up the youngsters and add depth (Betancourt, Kouzmanoff) and upgrade an already promising bullpen (Mijares, Broxton).

That being said, they still aren't there yet but that's ok.  The starting pitching is still pretty poor at this point but help is still on the way (two top 5 prospects in the system could hit the bigs this year), and there are still a few more position players who aren't there yet but should be soon.  So although the Royals won't contend for the AL Central crown this year, they should take a nice step forward and be right around .500 if everything is going according to plan.  If not, all the idiots like Snacks can go ahead and put a notch in their belt, because the whole "it's still the Royals" and "potential doesn't win games" and "we've been hearing about the Royals' talent for years" arguments are actually valid.  And I'd really hate for this to be true because I loathe stupidity.

Adds:  RP Jason Bulger, 3b Sean Burroughs, RP Jared Burton, IF Jayme Carroll, C Ryan Doumit, SP Jason Marquis, C J.R. Towles, OF Josh Willingham
Deletes:  OF Michael Cuddyer, OF Jason Kubel, RP Jose Mijares, RP Joe Nathan, OF Jason Repko, IF Matt Tolbert

The Twins lose more than anybody else in the division off last year's team with several main contributors from the good teams of the last few years taking off (including my favorite player ever Jason Kubel and my fake favorite player ever in Jason Repko) and that clearly shows they've recognized a need to rebuild and start over after last year's 99 loss debacle.  Problem.  You can't rebuild when you owe eleventy billion dollars to two guys who hardly ever play.

Really, we can analyze the signings to death, but everything is dependent on the health of Mauer and Morneau.  I mean, I like the Willingham signing, love the Doumit signing, and hate both the Capps and Marquis deals, but even if those all end up being home runs the team's going nowhere without Morneau and Mauer.  Say what you want about Parmelee (and I liked what I saw) in order to contend for the division they need Morneau.  Although even that might not even matter when you can't upgrade a pretty horrendous group of starting pitchers.  Marquis and Blackburn are going to get whacked around all year, Baker can't stay healthy, and I'm starting to think it's a bit of a fool's errand waiting for Liriano to put it all together - again.  Pavano is the only worthwhile one.  What the Twins need more than anything is to blow it up and start over, but they've hamstrung themselves and are now stuck in limbo.  Hurry, Miguel Sano.  Hurry.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Post-Vacation Ramblins (A little bit of everything)

Holy cow does two weeks of vacation fly by.  I can't believe it's over and I'm back doing real life things.  Real life sucks, and Minnesota doesn't have an ocean or bars that stay open until 4am.  I have no idea what I'm doing here.  But a whole lot happened in those two weeks, and as I sit here and watch the Gopher NIT game and pretend to not care what happens, I'll write some of those things down.

-  By the way, I have the Gophers +6, Rodney Williams over 19.5 pts+rebs, Austin Hollins over 1.5 made 3s, Reggie Johnson over 7.5 rebs, and both teams combined over 13 made 3s.  Some people may say that's a lot of bets for one game, and this is where I'd refute that but I got nothin'.

-  The Chicago trip was awesome as usual, even if it was just one night this year because Bogart has to take his stupid family on vacation.  Nothing too crazy to report, but the night did end with Dawger trying to act like a fake bouncer at some bar and bothering people for their IDs before he passed out in a chair outside and then challenged Bogart's 17-year old (male) ward to a wrestling match when we got back to his place at 3am.  So that was weird.  Or actually pretty normal.

-  We join the Gopher game in progress with them winning 6-0.  Can we just call the game right here?

-  I apologize for not knowing this but I've been on vacation and also haven't really wanted to pay any attention to the Gophers, but is Ralph hurt or something?  Or just benched because he sucks and is graduating anyway?

-  Once again my bracket is in shambles with two Final Four teams (Mizzou and FSU) bounced and that certainly doesn't help, but UNLV and Memphis getting smacked in the first round when I had both making Sweet 16 runs killed me, along with Belmont who I also had in the 16.  Naturally my wife is kicking my ass and could win the whole thing if Kansas takes it, and my bracket blowing up in my face during the first weekend, I've been informed, is now considered an annual tradition of the Chicago trip along with wings at the Dayton Bar (or a brat if you're Dawger), yelling at strangers at the W bar, or Coldplay at the Yahtzee bar.  No, I don't know the name of any of the bars we always go to, just know them by nickname.  Seems more insider and hip that way.

-  I can't be the only person who hears D.J. Cooper's name (of the Ohio Bobcats) and thinks  "For D.B. Cooper and the money he took, you can look for answers but that ain't fun, now get the pit and try to love someone bawitdabadabangdabangditty."  Right?

-  Jesus this game is sloppy.  It's like watching a sea otter make love to a mop.  The Gophers are so bad I want to kidnap every single one and send them to Clem Haskins basketball camp.  Or something.  I don't know, somebody who can teach how to not turn the ball over and also doesn't hate shooting.  You know who else hated shooting?  MLK, and look what happened to him.

- I really hope you watch the Walking Dead, or if you don't you weren't one of those jackasses who bailed on the season when things were moving a little slowly, because the show just had its season finale and the last handful of episodes were bad-ass and were going a little Game of Thrones-y just killing people off.  Not to mention an orgy of zombie killing to kick-off the last episode.  Just an awesome last few hours, including the death of an annoying but main guy, the death of a main important guy, the deaths of a bunch of filler dudes, Daryl continuing to morph into a badass, some ninja showing up with two armless walker pets or something and saving Andrea, a look at a giant prison where they're heading which is supposed to be badass according to people who read the Walking Dead comics and no I'm not one of them, and Rick reminding everyone why he's in charge and he's the leader.  Just awesome.  Other than that mom lady and that idiot kid this show suddenly rocks again in every way.

-  Gophers lead by 12 at half.  No, I'm not remotely excited.  In case you've ever wondered if it's better to win the NIT or make the NCAA Tournament and lose in the first round, the latter is considerably better and it's not close.  That means the second one, dummy.

-  It's been a while since I've officially dedicated a post to a chick, but this one is dedicated to Becki Newton who plays Quinn on How I Met Your Mother.  The show started out the gate with Cobie Smulders hotter than the sun, but she faded a bit and Alyson Hannigan somehow went from cute and funny to straight up hot (note: pretty sure it was the bigger boobs after she had a kid).  They've also had guest stars like Sarah Chalke and Rachel Bilson who both rate in the top 20 or so hottest chicks going today, but Newton might be the hottest of them all not counting Chalke.

-  Speaking of hot chicks I was going to post a youtube video of when Christina Aguilera, who is still hot shut up I don't want to hear it leave me alone, performed at the vmas with Fred Durst and was headbanging and how it was so sexy and stuff like that.  But it's not there the way I remember in any of the videos I found after searching for 3 minutes.  I feel dumb.  Like you probably do every day.

-  I don't have a huge opinion on Dwight Howard deciding to stay in Orlando, at least for another year, but there was something I liked about him coming out and apologizing to his fans for created a circus and that they didn't deserve that.  I also liked how he mentioned that he "got some bad advice" and was now running from it, as compared to LeBron who got some bad advice and embraced it as the best idea ever.  This was like Goofus and Gallant from highlights magazine.  Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about.

-  In case you care Peyton Manning signed or will sign or is about to sign with the Broncos, so you can take your stupid Tebow jersey and light in on fire and then shove it up your ass.  I don't know why I wrote that so meanly, but if you own a Tebow jersey you don't really care you just turn the other cheek as your weak Jesus taught you and take it like you're some dork in Madison who just sits there and lets Dawger slap your slice of pizza out of your mouth.  That's why the black jesus is better.  I have no idea where I was planning on taking the sentence, but here we are.  I think it was supposed to have something to do with Demaryious Thomas, who is apparently now the black jesus just so I can pretend I didn't get lost in my own thought, never to return that that chick from Pan's Labyrinth.

-  There's no doubt the Gophers blow this lead, right?

-  I had two units on the Rodney bet, by the way and he's just 1 pt or reb away from a win.  Between the double bet on that and the double on the game if I can win those two I can cancel out all of my super shitty bets that suck.

-  Osenieks falls down after taking an inadvertent head butt to his temple.  He still manages to take the ball and get it to a guard, which proves to me he's more of a man than Justin Morneau who probably would have fallen down immediately like a girl and sat out the next two years.  Thank god Osenieks isn't from Canadia.  Seriously, between Morneau, Koskie, and Sidney Crosby I'm starting to think the tough guy reputation for Canadians is as overblown as white guys having smaller dinks.  *points down, pelvic thrust*

If you aren't reading this you really should.  It's the story of a dude who taught his cat to use instant messager when he's at work.  Just read it.

-  Ok so the Gophers are up 15 now, and assuming nobody transfers or Rodney doesn't do something stupid like go pro we're basically watching next year's team + chuck buggs and whatever that white kids name is because Ralph is nowhere to be seen (and I'm assuming no Mbakwe sixth year).  I have to admit I don't really hate what I see.  I don't love it, necessarily, because the outside shooting is just atrocious, but Andre Hollins is really growing into that point guard role (scoring point, but still) and Coleman and Austin Hollins both show a nose for scoring the ball that I really like.  And speaking of that where the hell is Chip? Apparently there is so much going on with this team it's impossible to keep up.  God this is just like school all over again.

-  And Dre Hollins basically just went for back-to-back heat checks and canned them both.  I freakin' love this kid.  He's got 20 point per game potential by his senior year written all over him.  Assuming there's a different coach of course, I can't imagine Tubby allowing a 20 point per game scorer on this team.

-  Dammit, I think I left my beef jerky in Bogart's basement.  Instead I'll have one of these Nathan's Famous kosher dill pickles, which, as a connoisseur of pickles, are the second best I've ever had behind my aunt and uncles homemade spicy pickles.  Really, if you like pickles go buy these.  I'm from a polish family so grew up eating pickles with every meal including breakfast (and still do), I'm compelled to order a pickle from any sandwich shop that sells them (Jimmy John's are better than Potbelly's, for the record) and I once won twenty bucks off a guy in college (WSCT QB, who I know occasionally reads here) by drinking a jar of pickles juice, which I did in one tip back and about 20 seconds and it was easy.  I know my pickles.  Go buy these. Even better than Claussen, and that's saying something.

-  It's amazing how good this team is when they just get to let loose. 

-  Early Sweet 16 leans:
Cuse -4 over Wisconsin (Wisky too dependent on the three against that zone)
Michigan State -4.5 over Louisville (Sparty peaking, but this is one I may switch up on by gametime because L'ville is too)
Cincy +7.5 vs. Ohio State (Buckeyes are flawed and this Cincy team is athletic enough to stay with them)
Marquette -1.5 vs. Florida (maybe I'm dumb because Florida beat Virginia despite being terrible from the perimeter, but Marquette isn't UVA)
Xavier +6 vs. Baylor (Xavier always keeps em close and Baylor is a choker team)
Ohio +10.5 vs. UNC (Marshall out will hurt, but I'm still wary here)
Indiana +9 vs. Kentucky (weird line that feels like a trap since IU beat UK earlier, but I guess I'm falling for it)
NC State +8 vs. Kansas (I don't think Kansas is built to blow out a good team, and NC State is a good team)

The only one of these I love is Cincy, so throw your money that way.  Despite my bracket being in a shambles (as usual) I do well gambling (as usual) so hopefully that keeps up.

-  Oh good, Gophers go into a stall.  That always works for this team.

-  Anybody ever gone to Coastal Seafood in Mpls or St. Paul?  Looks like they have shrimp and seafood from all over including Rhode Island Monkfish which I'd love to have a chance to cook.  Color me interested, which is like a greenish yellow.

-  Gophers win 78-60 in a game that they dominated from the start.  If this wasn't the NIT I'd say this bodes well for next year.  I mean, look at Wichita State - nice run in the NIT, nearly the entire team back, and they made a nice run in the NCAA Tournament this year.  NIT success vs. NCAA success the following year - it's nearly a perfect correlation.  Can't wait for 2013.  And I can't believe I have to watch this again on Wednesday.  I feel like Lady MacBeth.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March Madness Preview

Well I'm back which sucks.  I mean, I'm back in Minnesota from Florida for a couple of days before I head to Chicago with Snake and Dawger to watch some hoops with Bogart, but man am I going to miss Florida.  So awesome.  And even though we were on Estero Island, which is across from Fort Myers, we didn't go anywhere near the Twins facility.  We didn't plan not to or anything, but we didn't plan to necessarily either and there was just so much to do we never got around to it and really I don't care one bit because hey, it's preseason baseball.  What with all the laying on the beach, swimming in the ocean, playing with the kids, drinking, ogling college girls in bikinis on their Spring Break, fishing (although I wish I did more) and incredible food, there just wasn't time.

We even lucked into being there for Shrimp Fest, which meant there was a kick-ass parade the kids loved and the festival offered a massive amount of delicious shrimp, which fit in with all the other incredible seafood we were able to have (including an amazing crab chowder on Sanibel Island and tons of grouper and shrimp prepped in various ways).  Not least of which was simply picking it up fresh from the daily market and preparing in the condo.  I made grilled chili-lime shrimp, almond-crusted grouper, grilled spicy garlic shrimp, and spice-rubbed sea bass with a brown butter sauce and I know I like to brag about my cooking on here and everything but I absolutely knocked these out of the park.  In fact, that grouper recipe is so good I'll share it at the end of this post.  Plus they had Yuengling everywhere, including a place that had it on tap for $1.50 during happy hour.  Many were consumed.

But enough about the past, time to look to the future and preview the NCAA Tournament.  Not just picks for a bracket pool, but also some good lines I'll be wagering on at TopBet NCAA Hoops.  I've realized lately that the reason I'm not doing well in bracket pools lately because I get a little too crazy.  If I pick three crazy things to happen deep in the tournament, even if one does I'm screwed because it doesn't make up for the two that didn't.  So I'm going to dial it back a bit this year, but I'll still throw out my crazier feelings because then if they hit I look smart.  Oh, and I may write something Gopher-related tonight if I decide to watch them play LaSalle.  I'm not sure yet.

The big story here obviously is Kentucky, which had rolled through this season without much issue until dropping the SEC Championship to Vandy, but still received the #1 overall seed due to their regular season domination.  I also think they caught a break with their #2 and #3 seeds in Duke and Baylor because both have a tendency to shrink from big games and it wouldn't be remotely surprising if neither makes the sweet 16.  I'm actually picking UNLV to beat both because they have the size and athleticism to neutralize Baylor's advantage and beat up on Duke, and like I said both teams are upsets waiting to happen.  The only real danger is if Duke gets hot from 3, and the Rebels have struggled in that area but I think it's a worthy gamble.

Kentucky's biggest competition in the region might be Wichita State, a team I was willing to have go all the way to the Elite 8 or Final Four in my bracket if they avoiding the wrong match-ups, and clearly they didn't.  I was initially tempted to stubbornly stick with what I was hoping would happen and have them shock the Wildcats (see what I did there) but reason prevailed and there's just no way I can take them over Kentucky so I have the Shockers out in the round of 16.  I think they're the right kind of team who could take them down (experienced, well coached, disciplined, with enough size to deal with UK) and will be hammering them wagering wise assuming they get that far, but gotta go with the Wildcats here, as well as to win the region.

Early upsets I like UCONN over Iowa State and Xavier over Notre Dame.  I actually liked either UCONN or Iowa State as a sleeper squad, but again, not against Kentucky, and I'm giving the edge to Connecticut mostly just based on experience but wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Cyclones pull it out.  Xavier underachieved most of the year while Notre Dame overachieved, both results that seem to be evening themselves out.  Xavier is the more talented squad, so they're the pick.

A pretty straight-forward region to me without a ton of upsets, but one that stands out to me is Memphis over Michigan State in round 2 (or 3, whatever).  I know Sparty closed out the year strong, but the Tigers were on fire to finish up.  They won 11 of their final 12 games which included wins over Xavier, two wins over a good Marshall team by 20+, two wins over a good UCF team by 19+, and a double-digit win at a decent Tulsa squad.  There's more.  Memphis also ranks in the top 20 in's offensive and defensive efficiency ratings, one of only seven teams in the country to have that distinction (the others:  Syracuse, North Carolina, Wichita, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State, and, yes, Michigan State).

In my estimation the two best teams in the top half of this region are Memphis and Michigan State, and whoever wins this one goes on to the Elite 8, knocking off New Mexico in the round of 16.  I would probably lean Sparty here just to be safe, but MSU just lost Branden Dawson for the year and that shifts things for me.  Dawson isn't just their second best inside scorer and rebounder, he's their best athlete.  The other inside players for the Spartans don't have anywhere near the athleticism of Dawson, and that's going to be sorely missed against a team like Memphis, which why I'm taking the Tigers.

The bottom half of the bracket is all about Marquette and Missouri, either of who could be a Final Four team and neither of which will have any issue reaching the Sweet 16 to face each other.  I give the edge to Mizzou because this game is going to be all about fire power and Missouri has just a bit more.  This might be the best game of the entire tournament.  And as far as early upsets in this region the only one I have outside of the Memphis thing is Virginia over Florida.  I once considered Florida a sleeper - and still would - but this matchup against UVA is a killer for them.  The Gators rely on the outside shot, which is what the Cavs completely excel at shutting down, and they don't play nearly good enough defense to make Virginia's lousy offense pay, and they don't have anybody who can handle Mike Scott.  I considered Long Beach but I think New Mexico is too hot and too good, and I was planning on having Murray State lose their first round matchup but then they pulled Colorado State and well, that ain't gonna happen.

Maybe the biggest question of the whole tournament is what to make of Syracuse now that Fab Melo is suspended for the tournament.  There is going to be a tendency to overreact, such as the line on their opening game against Asheville falling from -17 to -15.5 (note:  hit that -15.5 hard), but don't forget Syracuse is a very balanced, very good team, and even though their defense takes a pretty big hit with Melo out their offense is still going to be top notch.  They can easily make it to the Final Four, depending on match-ups.  So let's look.

One of the worst match-ups for the Orange could come in the second round against Kansas State.  The Wildcats are big and physical (which is why they swept Missouri) and absolutely crush on the offensive boards (6th in the country), which just happens to be Syracuse's biggest weakness (341st) and that was with Melo.  If K-State could shoot a little bit I'd feel a lot better, but between that and the fact and that I'm not even sure they can beat Southern Miss (although I think they probably can) means I'm pushing the Cuse through to the Elite 8 after beating Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 (I hate them, but I think they're peaking at the right time and Vandy is always ripe to throw up on themselves in the tournament).

In the bottom of the bracket I also see the seeds holding up and Ohio State and Florida State meeting in the Sweet 16 (only upset I have here is WVU over Gonzaga), which means I have seeds 1-4 in the round of 16 in this region which is lame but it's what I see.  Both these teams are very flawed offensively, but both play tremendous defense, so I expect this one to stay in the 50s and be close the whole way, but with FSU clicking on all cylinders right now I'll give them the nod.  And this is also where I see Syracuse's run ending, with FSU making the Final Four.  The Seminoles are one of the biggest teams in the country with a defense that can contain the Orange, and with their shooting starting to come around they can get their shots against that zone.  The Seminoles in the Final Four could only happen if they were the least flawed of a bunch of flawed high seeds, and that's exactly what we got here once Melo got suspended (Syracuse was my championship pick prior to the news).  It's going to be the winner of that FSU/Ohio State game, bank on it.

This one is pretty clear cut, and I can't see any reason this shouldn't come down to Kansas vs. UNC in the Elite 8.  The winner of Creighton/Alabama is probably the biggest threat to beat UNC before then (I have Creighton, but neither one is going to beat the Heels) because the bottom half of that bracket is just brutal.  Both Temple and Michigan are ripe to be upset in the first round, but with their opponents being Ohio and the winner of Cal/USF it just ain't going to happen.  I put Michigan in the Sweet 16 by default, but that's just a terrible grouping of teams.  Those who whine about UNC getting favorable treatment, well, you kind of got a point.

The bottom is where I see some really wacky shit happening, with all three first round games outside of Kansas being upsets (NC State over SDSU, Belmont over G-Town, and Purdue over St. Mary's).  I think the Boilers are better than the Gaels and NC State is peaking while SDSU is fading after doing it with smoke and mirrors most of the way, but the Belmont one probably needs more of an explanation than that.  For me it's not so much a matter of matchups or statistical analysis, but this one is more of a "feel" game for me.  Belmont is loaded with upper classmen and has building towards this for years, while Georgetown pretty much had to reset itself after last year and losing three top players to graduation.  They've had a good year despite that, but as stupid as it sounds this one feels like destiny.  Should be epic, and if Belmont can take care of G-Town I think they take down NC State as well before falling in the Sweet 16 to Kansas.

As far as that Elite 8 game goes between the Jayhawks and Tar Heels, it's weird because although I'm usually a Jayhawk hater dating back to Jacque Vaughn and Jeff Boschee and Eric Chenoweth and all those other nerds I'm on the bandwagon this year.  I absolutely love Thomas Robinson in a Blake Griffin (in college) kind of way, although he takes Griffin's size and athleticism and adds in an actual post game which is why he reminds me so much of Hakeem Olajuwon and I don't care who knows it.  Because of that and because I've seen North Carolina lose focus way too many times this year, I'm taking the Jayhawks.  Of course it also wouldn't surprise me to see UNC run the table the whole way, but I'm betting on Kansas (plus Self is a better game coach than Williams).  I just see Thomas Robinson doing a Danny Manning here, even if trusting Kansas in an NCAA Tournament is usually a foolish decision.

From there I have Kentucky over Kansas in the Final, which makes me sick because I hate thinking about watching Calipari win one.  Hopefully somebody can take them down, although if it's Wichita I'm going to hate myself for chickening out.

Finally, since I promised, here is that almond crusted fish recipe.  I made Grouper, but if you're in Minnesota it would probably work on tilapia or whatever else you can get.  Try it.  It'll change your life.

1/2 c. almonds chopped fine
1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 t. allspice
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1 t. sea salt
1 t. black pepper
1 t. paprika

Mix all that together and then roll the fish around in it so it's got a nice count of the almonds.  Heat a pan to high and heat your oven to 400 degrees.  Throw the fish on the pan for 1 minute on each side to get a nice sear, then throw in the oven for 10 minutes or so depending on thickness.  Serve.

So good you'll go burn down your local Red Lobster.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Week in Review - 3/5/2012

So MLB in their infinite wisdom has decided to add a second wild card team beginning this season whereby the first round of the playoffs will consist on one game in each league between the two wild card teams, in an attempt to cash in on the excitement the Game 163s have generated the last few years in a move that was almost certainly driven by the almighty dollar.

That being said, I like it.  Not only does it give more teams a chance to be relevant late into the season (which, face it, as a Twins fan is a big selling point) but it finally gives a meaningful advantage to the teams that win their division over the Wildcard winner.  Before the only difference was home field advantage, now winning a wild card means you play one game for your playoff life while the division winners know they have a full series coming up.  I'm 100% on board, thanks for asking.


1.  Chip Armelin.  I know the clearest sign of a terrible college season for a team is to start evaluating players in terms of their futures before the year is even over, but here we are, and Armelin played a great game against Nebraska. It was nice to see a player actually attempt to score, not to mention that scoring seemed to be the #1 thing on his mind - a true rarity on the Gopher teams of the Tubby Smith era.  He even took a heat check after he made those three treys, and as a huge fan of the heat check it was nice to see because nobody else ever does it on this team.  I'm not exactly sure how to project him going forward (assuming he stays with Minnesota) but with him, Dre Hollins, and Joe Coleman the team at least has three guard types who are aggressive with the ball and aren't afraid to attack the rim and attempt to score.  For now, at least, until Tubby beats them into submission and they start being afraid to drive. 

2.  Colonial Conference.  Well, the Colonial teams did what they were supposed to do.  The CAA had two teams in the mix for an at-large bid in VCU and Drexel, and both made it through to the CAA Final this week.  Obviously whichever team wins gets the auto-bid and the other will have to wait for Sunday and hope they get called, but they've done what the both needed to at this point.  Both are so on the bubble that it's really tough to say if they'd get in with a loss and might need to catch a few breaks but with Murray State and Creighton getting autobids that's two at-larges that are safe.  I'm hoping the committee does the right thing and let's them both in over crappy big 6 teams like Arizona, Seton Hall, or Miami, but that big conference bias has reared it's head in the past, so I'm skeptical at best.  [NOTE:  VCU ended up winning, and even though it was a close game that pretty much went down to the wire I came away less impressed with Drexel than I was the last time I watched them.  I still think they're a good, tough mid-major but I no longer think it'll be a travesty if they don't get a bid.  They'll probably just beat the Gophers in NIT round 1.]

3.  Indiana Hoosiers.  When Indiana started out the year hot I wasn't buying it.  Then they beat Kentucky and Ohio State and I was like ok maybe.  Then they lost three straight including a home loss to the Gophers and on the road at Nebraska and I was like ha ha I knew it.  Then they just kind of did what decent big ten teams always do (win at home, lose on the road, beat who you should, don't get upset, blah blah) and it was boring, but this week might have won me over.  The beat both Michigan State and Purdue handily and as everyone who was talking about anything about basketball last week made sure to let you know that's three top-five teams they've now beaten this year.  What really won me over was in watching good size chunks of both of those games they're more athletic than I thought.  They still won't be confused for Kentucky, but guys like Sheehey and Oladipo are really good athletes, and Hulls and Watford move around better than I remembered.  I still don't think they can get any further than the Sweet 16, but not long ago I was penciling them in as being upset in round 1, so they've made me rethink things a bit.

4.  Cincinnati Bearcats.  Well that's certainly how you make a run when you're stuck on the bubble come late February.  The Bearcats beat Marquette and Villanova this week (at Nova) to finish the regular season with five wins in the last six including wins over three teams in the top 56 RPI and the only loss to South Florida on the road (RPI 45).  You still can't quite guarantee they're in because that horrendous strength of schedule (#321 non-conference SOS with 9 games against sub-200 RPI teams) and the ugly loss against Presbyterian (RPI 246) which has a good chance to be the worst loss by any tournament team this year, but they're now up to 5-4 against the RPI Top 50 and 7-5 road/neutral and they simply just belong.  Their RPI is held back by that SOS and is shaky at 66 right now, but a few weeks ago they were in the mid-80s, so this is a solid run that's kind of inspiring in the same way the Gophers falling from solidly in to no shot in one short month is inspiring but the opposite.

5.  North Carolina Tar Heels.  Ruh roh.  I think everybody has known all year the Heels were behind only Kentucky in pure talent, but for whatever reason seemed to not quite be able to put it together and kind of drifted along, as double digit losses to UNLV and Florida State attest to.  I mean sure, they won lots of games and all, but they were definitely not living up to their talent level.  And then Duke won in Chapel Hill.  And something snapped.  The Heels have won their last seven, including absolutely crushing Duke's soul in Durham and easy road wins against three possible tournament teams in Virginia (lock), Miami (likely), NC State (very unlikely).  I was hoping they wouldn't figure it out so I could trust them to lose early, but looks like no such luck, and Kendall Marshall was just snubbed for ACC first team so, well, yeah, there's that.  And keep in mind that Roy Williams has no interest in conference tournaments so if/when UNC flames out early in the ACC tourney don't let that affect your NCAA picks.  Or let it.  More sweet sweet delicious sexy money for me sex.


1.  St. Louis Cardinals.  Lemme get this straight.  First, you lose your best player, maybe the best player of his generation and the face of your franchise because you can't afford to pay him.  Then you turn around and give your catcher $15mm per year?  So let's see.  Pujols got 10 years, $240 million from the Angels for an average salary of $24 million each season.  From what I can find, the biggest offer the Cardinals put on the table was 9 years, $205 million - or $22.78 million per.  You're telling me you couldn't take a few extra million you offered Molina and use it to re-sign Pujols and then offer Molina $13 per instead of $15?  You're telling me he wouldn't take that?  Seems like knee jerk reaction to make sure you don't lose your second most beloved player after botching it on the first.  Then again, my favorite team gave their catcher 800 bajillion dollars to sit on the bench, so who am I to talk.

2.  Wichita State.  Losing in the semis of a middle tier conference tournament to a non-descript Illinois State team is never a good thing, but in this case it doesn't really bother me nor my love for the Shockers (the team, not the act).  First of all and most importantly they're already guaranteed an at-large bid thanks to a very good resume, so this loss doesn't knock them out.  Some people will say they'll be more rested but I don't really care about that because a couple of days doesn't make much difference to a 20-year old college athlete, but what I really like is this will knock their seed down a peg.  If they're a 5 or 6 instead of a 3 or 4 fewer people will pick them to make the sweet 16 and even fewer will pick them to make the Elite 8 so when I do and they do I will be the winner and the money will be mine all mine oh sweet money yes I want the money oh yes. 

3.  The Pac-12.  I'm starting to think they should just go ahead and not invite anyone from the Pac-10, including the conference winner.  Arizona starts to look like they're in decent shape and they lose to atrocious Arizona State (RPI 248) to knock them out of the running for a bid.  Washington starts to look like they could maybe get comfortable and they lose to UCLA (RPI 112).  Cal nearly has a bid completely sewn up, but they lose to Stanford (RPI 95), and suddenly nobody is anywhere near a lock.  If Cal and/or Washington get to the Pac-12 final they're probably ok, especially with all the chalk winning the conference tourneys so far, but if they come up short this might really be a one bid league.  At this point the right move might be to just give it to Oregon, because they at least seem like they want to make it and have won four straight.  Don't be shocked if the Ducks end up taking this tournament and the only Pac-12 bid this year.

4.  Iona Gaels.  Well shit.  I couldn't be more bummed about the Gaels losing in the quarters of the MAAC Tournament, because this is a really good, fun, dangerous team and suddenly they're probably not going to get a bid to the NCAAs.  That loss (to Fairfield) gives Iona they're fourth loss to a sub-100 RPI team with two of those teams being sub-200, and that's not going to help, especially considering there's only one win over a top 50 team (Nevada).  They 5-3 record over the Top 100 is fine and the RPI is ok at 46, but there's an awful lot of questions about the profile here.  If they had made the conference final and lost to Loyola (RPI 85) they'd be in a lot better shape, but if ifs and buts were candy and nuts every day would be Erntedankfest.

5. Seton Hall Pirates.  As much as Cincinnati might be the poster team for doing things the right way to get a bid, Seton Hall might be your classic team that does something awesome to make their fans think they're going to do it and then fuck it all up, or as I like to call it, "pulling a Gopher."  Really though, since beating Georgetown and making everybody say "well shit this Seton Hall team might be the goods" the Pirates have lost to Rutgers (RPI 153) and DePaul (RPI 193) which is like LOL.  They play Providence tomorrow (today, if you're reading this instead of doing work) and although the Friars aren't exactly good or anything like that, they do own wins this year over Louisville and UCONN so it's not like they're a piece of crap.  Plus I'd rather have Providence win so we can forget all about this shitty team who sucks and maybe they can get Iona in there instead.  Do it for the children.

And with that I'm out of here.  Off to the great state of Florida with the family to be closely followed by a trip to Chicago to watch the NCAA Tournament with Bogart, Dawger, and Snake.  Probably drink some beer, some vodka, some redbull, and eat a few wings, too.  So I have no idea if/when I'll be posting again.  I'll try to get something up when I'm in Florida, but god willing I'll be too busy.  Then again, the whole family will be there so maybe I'll have to pretend to "work" and blog it up.  You hope.

Lastly I want to mention that I won our Big 10 Fantasy League, beating Bogart in a thriller in the championship and a big thank you to Drew Crawford.  Dawger finished dead last.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Weekend Tournaments (and early next week)

 When I said at the bottom of yesterday's post that there weren't really any games with bubble implications last night, I was counting Virginia as a lock.  After blowing a home game to Florida State last night they're suddenly looking a wee bit shakier.  They're probably still in good shape (losing to FSU isn't anywhere near a bad loss), but absolutely need to win at Maryland this weekend or the ACC Tournament is going to be nerve-wracking.  Elsewhere Washington avoided a bad loss by smoking USC on the road and Oregon won a bubble elimination game by knocking of Colorado at home.  Oregon is still not anywhere near in, but they are still in the conversation.  And that's about it.

BIG SKY (saturday):
My third team I root for (behind Minnesota, then Iowa State) resides here in Weber State, and they look solid once again this year.  Unfortunately it's a pretty down year in the mountains, with only Weber and Montana having anything resembling good seasons. Not that it really matters, I'm not sure if I can recall the Big Sky ever getting an at-large, and that's not likely to change any time soon.
Favorite:  Montana. The Grizzlies win over Weber on Tuesday bumped them a game ahead of the Wildcats and into first place.  Not that it really matters, because only six teams make the tournament and the 1 and 2 seeds get byes, so it's win one each and then Montana and Weber face off again.
Sleeper:   Eastern Washington.  There's not really anything special about the Eagles, but they play at a fast pace and don't turn it over so they'll get plenty of shots.  Unfortunately they can't shoot.  But what if they could?  Think about that.
W's Pick:  Weber State.  Of course I'm going to pick Weber, but in this case it makes sense.  Their best player is point guard Damian Lillard who's second in the country in scoring at 24.5 per game, and he's good enough to take over and bring the Wildcats back to the tournament where we could have Harold Arceneaux part II:  Shorter and Whiter.

MID-AMERICAN (monday):
Seems as if every year the MAC is almost a two-bid league.  Like, every year either Akron or Kent State is close but they can't get over the hump, and by not over the hump I mean they can't even get themselves on the Bubble.  But somehow they always seem to have a team that's close.  I don't know, maybe I'm a weirdo.
Favorite:  Akron.  And, once again, the Zips would be that team this year.  Coming into their bracket buster game against Oral Roberts they were 19-7 and 11-1 in league with no real bad losses, and a win over ORU would have probably moved them from off the bubble to the bottom of it.  Instead they lost to the Golden Eagles and followed that up by losing two of the next three.  They're still the class of the league at 12-3 (pending Friday night's regular season finale at Kent State) and the definite favorite.
Sleeper:  Ohio.  This was supposed to be a big year for the Bobcats who were returning six of their top 8 scorers plus adding a couple "impact" transfers and some good freshmen.  It hasn't quite worked out to be their year, but Ohio is still the best defensive team in the MAC and D.J. Cooper is still around, the point man who was instrumental in leading Ohio to a MAC Tourney win as a freshman, not to mention scoring 23 with 8 assists in their first round upset over Georgetown.
W's Pick:  Ohio.  I remember Cooper and what he did as a freshman and it wouldn't shock me to see it happen again.  Plus, if it wasn't for a couple of bizarre mid-season losses to Eastern Michigan and Toledo the Bobcats would be 12-3 and tied with Akron for first place, not to mention they just pasted the Zips by 24 a week ago.

One of the worst conferences, and always one of the worst conferences (never ranked better than 30th in the land according to, the MEAC nonetheless can produce some interesting stuff.  Like Reggie Holmes.  How could you forget Reggie Holmes?  Simply put, the best chucker I've ever seen - and by best I don't mean most skilled, although he did nearly lead the nation in scoring.  So that's why, no matter what, I will always partially love the MEAC.  That and they have Bethune-Cookman, which is still my favorite name for a college ever. 
Favorite: Savannah State.  In 2005 Savannah State finished the year 0-28, the first winless D-I team since 1992.  A few short years later they set the record for fewest points in a half after scoring just 4 against Kansas State on 1-23 shooting in the second half.  Now they're the #1 seed in the MEAC Tournament after going 14-2 this year.  Quite the turnaround.  Also there's a chance they're not 100% D-I eligible yet so it's actually possible they might not be playing in this tournament in which case they're not really the #1 seed, obviously.  I kind of tried to look it up but after searching for like, a minute I couldn't find anything so I quit.
Sleeper:   Coppin State.  In a league that's just bad you end up with a whole ton of horrid offensive teams.  Coppin State is the exception.  They rank 53rd in the NCAA in points per game and 124th in offensive efficiency, which may not sound like much but it's the best in the conference by far and only Delaware State is even close.
W's Pick:  Coppin State.  I don't know, it seems like they always win.  Plus they at least shoot the three-pointer well which means they might be a halfway interesting 16 seed, assuming they win their play-in game.

SUMMIT LEAGUE (saturday):
You know who loves the Summit League?  All the dorky Gopher fans who have already bailed on the team and have decided to throw all their support behind South Dakota State and their little boyfriend Nate Wolters, just like all those same dorks were all behind NDSU that one year when they made the tournament.  Well you know who hates teams like those?  Yeah, I do.  Screw those nerds.  I hate all teams from all states that border this one except Iowa State.
Favorite:  Oral Roberts.  The Golden Eagles are actually not that far off of the bubble thanks to an RPI of 44 and a 26-5 overall record.  It's very doubtful they get a bid even if they make the final but lose, but the Golden Eagles have wins over Xavier and Akron and held tough with Gonzaga and West Virginia.  I very much hope they make it because they could give somebody a nice tussle in round one.
Sleeper:   Oakland.  The Golden Grizzlies (really?  Two "golden" teams in the same conference?) had a bit of a fall-off after losing Keith Benson from last year's super good team that somehow couldn't even beat Texas, but they still finished third in the league this year and have Reggie Hamilton back.  Hamilton is the leading scorer in the nation while still managing to chip in 5.1 assists per game and he had an absolutely monster Summit tourney last year and had a great game against Texas.  He's absolutely capable of carrying this team to a title.
W's Pick:   South Dakota State.  I'd love to see ORU or Oakland have a chance to take a run at somebody, but because life loves irritating me I'm sure the stupid Jackrabbits will end up making it.  At least my cousin will be happy since she's alumni.  Unless she went to USD.  I have to be honest, I'm not exactly sure.  Maybe I'm not the best cousin.

SUN BELT (saturday):
For much of the year Middle Tennessee State was bringing back the memories of when the Sun Belt used to be good with Courtney Lee and Taco Hawk running around for Western Kentucky and whoever used to be on South Alabama doing good things and all that jazz.  Then they lost to that same WKU team in the regular season finale, and since WKU's RPI is in the sub-200 range and MTSU had basically zero margin for error, they really better win this tournament.
Favorite:  Middle Tennessee.  I just said that, dummy, pay attention.  The Blue Raiders might not have any "holy shit" type wins, but they did beat Ole Miss, Akron, Belmont, and Loyola Marymount and crushed UCLA (which sounded better earlier in the year, but still).  They also rank in kenpom's top 100 for both offensive and defensive efficiency, and you know how many teams can say that?  Well, a lot, actually, but not too many from conferences like the Sun Belt.
Sleeper:   Denver.  If I remember correctly, Denver was the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt, and after some early season issues they've won their last four to close out the year and finish 11-5, and also beat MTSU in their last meeting. 
W's Pick:  Denver.  Check these stats:  The Pioneers shoot 40.1% from three, 11th in the country, and compliment that by shooting 55.9% from two, which is second best in the nation (behind Missouri).  They also play at a really slow pace (326th) so if they could just stop somebody they'd be money.  I'd really like to see them get in because I think they'd be a fascinating first round match-up.

Plenty of bubble stuff going on this weekend, and that's without even counting the conference tournament stuff.   Harvard has a big weekend starting tonight.  If they can sweep Columbia and Cornell on the road they'll lock up at least a tie for the Ivy Title, and those two wins might be enough to get them in anyway.  Texas has a huge chance to get the giant win they desperately need at Kansas, although that might be too tall an order.  Teams like UCONN (vs. Pitt), Memphis (@ Tulsa), St. Louis (@ Duquesne), Kansas State (vs. Okla State), Washington (@ UCLA), Cincy (@ Nova), Miami (vs. BC), Miss State (vs Arkansas), Seton Hall (@DePaul), Oregon (vs. Utah), Virginia (@ Maryland), and Arizona (@ ASU) need to avoid a loss, while Southern Miss is probably fine either way but a win @ Marshall would go a long way.  Perhaps the biggest bubble game of the weekend is WVU @ South Florida - the winner is probably in, the loser will need to make a decent run in the Big East tournament.

Also Mrs. W just got back from an early screening of Project X and told me it was like a combination of Superbad, Hangover, and Can't Hardly Wait.  She then told me it was a terrible movie.  lolwut?  Those are like, three of the best movies of all-time, can't possibly see how this would be terrible.  I think she might be a bit touched in the head, but don't tell her I said that.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thursday - Friday Tourneys

There were some games with major bubble implications last night, and in most cases they've moved teams closer towards the good.  Both Cincinnati (over Marquette) and South Florida (over Louisville) picked up major, major victories against top level RPI teams (Marquette = 7, L'Ville = 28) which, fortunately, is exactly what both teams needed.  You can also add Colorado State to the "doin' good things" list, because by beating UNLV at home that gives them another huge win (UNLV RPI = 11).  You can probably move all three teams to locks, or at least pretty close to it.  Speaking of locks, Alabama and Purdue move into that territory, if the weren't already there, with wins over Auburn and Penn State (thus avoiding a late bad loss).  Southern Miss also avoided a bad loss by taking down SMU.  With just Marshall left the Eagles are in good shape as long as they don't drop one too early in the C-USA Tournament, and Mississippi State (win over South Carolina in OT) and Texas (win over Oklahoma) stayed alive.

It wasn't all sunshine and puppy dogs, however, with the biggest heartbreak coming from Evanston, where Northwestern made a furious comeback to tie the game only to have Ohio State score with 3 seconds left to steal back the victory.  The loss doesn't crush the Wildcats NCAA bid hopes and hopefully doesn't crush their spirit, because getting that win would have all but guaranteed them a bid.  Miami also picked up a hurtful loss, losing at NC State.  It hurts more than the Wildcats loss to Ohio State, even if it doesn't feel like it

One of the worst conferences in the country ( ranks it 29th out of 32), but that's mainly due to the deadweight at the bottom (including 1-28 Binghampton).  The top couple of teams are decent, and this conference has given us some memorable March moments over the years like Vermont's win over Syacuse in the first round and Albany's near upset of #1 seed UCONN. 
Favorite:  Stony Brook.  The Seawolves ended Vermont's three-year run as regular season champions (which resulted in only one NCAA Tournament appearance).  They rank as team #122 on kenpom, which puts them in the same class as Penn State, for whatever that's worth.
Sleeper:  Albany.  The Greyhounds (great nicknames in this conference, seriously) finished fourth and boast the leagues best offense, including two of the top-5 scorers in the league.  Teams like that can get hot and light things up in a short tournament.
W's Pick:  Vermont.  It would be kind of poetic to see the 2nd place Catamounts beat Stony Brook for the bid, since the same scenario happened last year with the team's flip-flopped.  Plus Vermont finished the season out

Remember back when the MVC was the darlings of the NCAA and then became incredibly overrated and then just plain sucked?  Well they're back with a couple of sweet 16 caliber teams including one team I think could make a Final Four run, and a whole bunch of decent teams who could surprise.  Wichita State and Creighton are both locks to get at-large bids if they fall, but everybody else is going to need to win in St. Louis to make the dance.
Favorite: Wichita State.  I have to be honest, I've come to love this team and seriously think they have Final four potential.  Super efficient on offense, great defensively, with a very balanced team featuring seven big-time contributors, all of whom are juniors or seniors.  And look at their four losses this year:  Alabama, Temple (in OT), Creighton, and Drake (3 OT).  Not a bad loss among them even if Drake is a little iffy.  Love this team.
Sleeper:  Northern Iowa.  There are a whole mess of teams at 9-9 and you could pick any one of them here, but since nobody beat both Wichita and Creighton I'm going to just pick Northern Iowa here, solely because they shoot a ton of threes and they shoot them well - always a good combo for a sleeper run.
W's Pick:  Creighton.  Even though I think Wichita is the better team I have a feeling about Creighton for this tournament.  Doug McDermott is a beast and Antoine Young can change a game all by himself.  Plus I'd rather see Wichita with a lower seed because then when I put them in the Elite 8 I'll be the only one in the country who does.  Sucka MC!

A bit of an up year for the NEC, due to some decent out of conference wins (not good wins as we define them for bubble teams, but good for the NEC) with Wagner beating Pitt, Princeton, and Penn, Long Island knocking off Vermont, and Robert Morris beating LaSalle, Duquesne, and Ohio.  So, you know, good for them.
Favorite:  LIU-Brooklyn.  The Blackbirds, who are also Miles Tarver's favorite team, didn't have as good a non-conference schedule as fellow top of the leaguers Wagner and RMU, but they did roll through league play and finished 16-2.  And they're doing it by getting to line, as they have taken 49.5% as many free throws as they have field goal attempts, which is surprising 2nd in the nation, and they make them at a 73% clip, good for 55th.  Such a weird stat.
Sleeper:  Central Connecticut State.  I don't know if they're any good, but I wanted to talk about them here simply because they have three players in the top 4 in the league in scoring: Kyle Horton is second in the league at 18.7ppg, Kyle Vinales is third at 18.0, and Robby Ptacek is fourth at 17.6.  So weird.  Those three score 78% of their team's points.  I've never seen anything like that before.
W's Pick:  Central Connecticut State.  I can't get over it.  It's incredible.  They're all guards and two of them are seniors so a run is possible, plus it's just so cool.  The three of them have combined to take 1,211 shots this season.  The rest of the team has taken just 419, which is less than the Vinales guy and slightly more than either of the other two.  This is the coolest thing I've ever heard of.

COLONIAL (friday):
Super interesting conference this year, at least if you ask a nerd like me, because there are two teams here fighting for bids: Drexel and VCU.  If either team makes it to the final and loses they'll probably make it in (or if they win it, of course) but if either loses prior to that they're probably out.  And in a deep league like the CAA with five teams among kenpom's top 110, it's going to take a very good team to make it to the final.
Favorite:  Drexel.  The Dragons won the league thanks to a 17-game win streak.  They win because of their defense, which is absolutely stifling and the 7th hardest in the country to make shots against (the rest of the top 7 are all tournament locks).  They don't turn you over, but they don't give up many good looks and don't allow second chances.
Sleeper:  Georgia State.  Old Dominion, George Mason, and Delaware are all probably more likely to win than Georgia State, but the Panthers were the only team this year to beat both VCU and Drexel, and that's gotta count for something.
W's Pick:  Drexel.  I already talked about their defense, but in a league with a heavy emphasis on that side of the ball (five teams in the CAA rank in the top 40 toughest defenses to make shots against), the Dragons sport the most effective offense and can score against these other squads.  In fact, only Drexel and VCU rank in kenpom's top 150 in offensive efficiency.  So really the CAA is a lot like the Big 10.

Iona is the new Manhattan, which instantly reminds me of how much fun it was to have Luis Flores leading the Jaspers around.  There was a time not so long ago when the only conferences that played Friday nights were the MAAC and the Ivy, and since the Ivy was boring what were a couple of gambling degenerates supposed to do but play the MAAC games.  Man, Bogart and I knew just about everything there was to know about that conference back then.  The glory days, I like to call them.
Favorite: Iona. The Gaels are in pretty solid shape to grab an NCAA at-large bid even if they don't win the tournament, but they'd be better off getting to the final because a loss prior to that is a loss against a RPI sub-100 team, and that could put just enough doubt in the committee's mind that they'll screw it up and leave Iona out.
Sleeper:  Fairfield. The Stags were supposed to be right with Iona at the top of the conference with a shot at securing at at-large.  It hasn't quite worked out with Fairfield finishing fourth in the conference at 12-6 and an overall record of just 17-13, but they still have a good enough backcourt to be dangerous.
W's Pick:  Iona.  I have to pick the Gaels because it would just be a shame to have them not make the tournament. I mean, Scott Machado leads the country with 10.1 assists per game! You know the last time somebody finished the year with double-digit assists per game? Well I don't because ESPN's stat archive thing only goes back to 2001, but it's been at least that long.

SOUTHERN (friday):
This conference is pretty bad these days.  Davidson is solid again after a few post-Curry down years, but teams like Charleston and Wofford are significantly worse than last year (losing Noah Dahlman and Andrew Goudelock will do that), and the bottom of the conference is the pits.  Despite Wofford and Charleston's step backs, they're still the clear #2 and #3 in the league.
Favorite:  Davidson.  Unfortunately for the Wildcats, two losses in a league this down is bad, and one of those losses coming to Samford (RPI 266) is a killer, particularly with too many questionable losses and not enough good wins outside of that stunner at Kansas. Hard to believe a team that won in Kansas City needs to win their conference tournament to get into the NCAAs, but here we are.
Sleeper:  UNC-Greensboro.  Davidson is head and shoulders above everybody else so it's hard to pin down any other team with a chance to beat them, but how about the Spartans?  After starting the season 2-14, they went on a 10-1 tear to win the North Division.  Of course, they're now on a 3-game losing streak, but hey, I gotta pick somebody.
W's Pick:  Davidson.  Yep, another favorite.  They're just so much better than everyone else.  I mean, Kansas's losses this year are against Kentucky, Duke, Missouri, Iowa State, and Davidson.

In a really weird scenario I can never remember seeing before this close to selection Sunday there's almost nothing tonight that affects the bubble.  The only two games that matter are Washington @ USC and Colorado @ Oregon, and that last one barely does.  Every other game tonight involves teams that are already solidly in or are completely out.  I guess you could toss the Michigan @ Illinois game in there and say if Illinois wins they still have a very outside shot, so I guess we'll do that and call it three games of note.