Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tournament Talk. Stupid NIT.

I am back from Florida now and it sucks.  I'd much rather be there than here what with their beaches, fishing (I caught a snook!), ocean life (saw many dolphins, a couple of manatees, almost stepped on a stingray, and found a baby crab to show my kids), happy hour every day, the ocean, spring break chicks in bikinis who invite me into their bungalow to play drinking games and give me jello shots (actually happened!), fresh seafood, Yuengling evewhere, awesome sunsets and sunrises, the ocean, and consequence-less drinking.  I won't dwell on how awesome Florida is because it should be pretty self-evident, but if you ever have a choice to be on Estero Island or Sanibel Island rather than being in stupid Minnesota you should totally do it. 

One piece of advice I will give, is if you love seafood like I do go to the Farmer's Market (Fridays) or drive just over to the bridge to one of the fish markets.  Even though it's so abundant in the gulf it's also really expensive - a typical grouper dinner is 20-25 bucks while a pound of shrimp appetizer is up to $15.  At the markets you can get the grouper for about $20 a pound and the shrimp for a lot cheaper as well.  If you know how to cook (and I do) and like to (and I do) you can get out of there a lot cheaper considering two pounds of grouper is about 8 portions, so you're only paying like $5 per meal instead of $25.  I made an awesome almond-crusted grouper and an almost as good chili-lime preparation, and made some butter poached shrimp seasoned with this local seasoning blend that thsi one dude who my parents had try them said they were the best shrimp he had all week and he had some every day for a month.  So yeah, I rock.  And I got to de-head the shrimp, which is something I'd never done before.  That's right, manly enough to rip the head off a shrimp and talented enough to cook a gourmet dinner.  Settle down ladies, I'm taken.

Lots of basketball to catch up on, so we might as well get to it.

First, Gopher thoughts: 

-  Major bummer the Gophers missed the tournament, but not at all unexpected.  They were essentially a single win away from getting in most likely, and it wouldn't have mattered when it happened.  I think if you take any single one of their losses and turned it into a win the Gophers get in the tournament.  Not having Dre Hollins for a couple of those losses sucked and who knows how much the committee looked at that and if it even would have mattered, but their name wasn't called, it would have been an upset if it had been, and we move on to the prestigious NIT.

-  Despite missing the big tournament, I still consider this season a relative success since I didn't really plan on them making the tournament anyway (I'll delve further into a season recap after the NIT).  They won a couple of games I normally wouldn't have thought they'd win, and competed well against teams I thought would blow them out.  Despite a little regression by Austin Hollins, in general the players improved quite a bit from last year to this year, particularly the big men, and Dre Mathieu emerged as the type of player who should be on preseason all Big-10 lists.  Even somebody who looked completely worthless in Joey King emerged to show he could end up being a decent big 10 player. 

-  Recruiting has been more interesting, if not any better.  If you follow it you know how often the Gophers made top 5, top 3 lists and were mentioned as being in contention for a whole lot of highly ranked players.  They pretty much failed to land any, however, which an optimist could chalk up to the late start Pitino got.  I am that optimist.  Looking forward to seeing what he can do with the class of 2015.  If he doesn't land any high level talent in that class, then we can talk.

-  NC State getting in is, yes, a pretty big surprise and yes, I would have thought the Gophers would get in over the Wolfpack but it's not really worth bitching about.  If not NC State it would have been SMU.  If not SMU it would have been Green Bay or Ole Miss or Cal or somebody like that.  The Gophers just weren't there.

-  Their NIT bracket is interesting, I guess.  The first game against High Point is like, shoot me in the face, but a second rounder against either St. Mary's or Utah should be pretty fun.  Then, if they make it, a game against Southern Miss would be interesting, although if they end up against Missouri the Gophers will get destroyed, but it'd be fun to watch their guards (Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson who each average over 17.5 points per game) in person, if that game would be at The Barn.  I really don't know how that works.

-  And I don't want to hear that a deep NIT run is more valuable/important than a first round NCAA exit. It's not, and anyone saying so is rationalizing, a pollyanna fan, or a complete idiot.  That being said, a deep NIT run can be fun and entertaining and sure, may even help the team a bit for next season, so let's try to enjoy this even though I'll completely ignore any Gopher NIT game that clashes with any NCAA Tournament game. 

Speaking of, now onto to general NCAA tournament things:

-  The first thing I hate is Kansas and Florida in the same region, and I hated it because it popped up right away in the first region.  But then I thought more and looked more and I think it might have saved me from making the terrible mistake of putting the Jayhawks in the Final Four.  Without Embiid they're weaker inside, and in the second round they'll play New Mexico (who will kill Stanford) and their two headed giant monster of Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk.  New Mexico could totally beat an Embiid-less Kansas, and I'm calling it now - they will. 

-  The second thing I hated was the potential round 2 match-up for Iowa State in North Carolina.  When you're whole bit is to play fast and loose and basically try to outscore someone, the last thing you want to see is somebody who might be better at that style than you, and that's how the Heels look compared to the Cyclones (remember, I'm a pretty big Cyclone fan).  Good news for the Cyclones is that UNC plays insanely fast, but they have struggled offensively at times this year.  The bad news is that they've also beaten Michigan State and Louisville.  As a fan of circus ball, and if  you read this blog you know I love circus ball, as scary as this match-up is for ISU I really hope it happens - it would be circus ball galore.  They couldn't make this over/under number high enough for me to not take the over.

-  I had four teams in mind as my Final Four, as I usually do, prior to bracket release.  Unlike usual, they actually are in three different brackets, so I only have to figure out what to do with the West.  I like the idea of Ok State knocking off Arizona, but if that happens I basically have to take either OK State or San Diego State all the way to the Final Four, because there's no way anybody is making it out of that bottom bracket.  I am a believer in Wisconsin, but the flame out too often to trust, so it's either Ok State, SDSU, or don't pick the upset and go with Zona.  I don't know yet, but I'll let you know what I decide.  Don't act like you don't care.

-  The other place where I'm really having trouble is in the bottom half of the South.  I already said I have New Mexico beating Kansas, but I don't feel really confident in their ability to make the elite 8, which means my choice is pretty much Ohio State or Syracuse.  If Syracuse's late season plunge hadn't been so drastic and they still ended up as a 3 somehow that would have been perfect, but I'm not a big believer in the Orange right now.  But Ohio State can't shoot, so as much as I think Syracuse is open to upset I don't think the Buckeyes are the team to do it.  So basically I don't know what to do.  I think New Mexico could do it, but I also know that's not how you win brackets.  I'll probably end up going with Syracuse.  Lucky draw for them, considering neither Western Michigan nor Ohio State can shoot for shit.  Could get interesting if Dayton gets by the Buckeyes though, but they aren't really anything special.  Lucky break for the Cuse.

-  Although SWAC Champion Texas Southern is horrible, Aaric Murray could make things interesting.  If you remember, Murray was a hot shot recruit who ended up choosing his hometown LaSalle, and averaged 12 and 7 and then 15 and 8 his two years there before, if I remember, a rather ugly transfer to West Virginia.  After a rough year there (averaged 9 and 6) he somehow got another year of eligibility for, you can probably guess, Texas Southern.  Murray averaged 21 and 8 against the terrible SWAC competition, but at 6-10, 245 lbs. with some serious offensive skills (not to mention 2.5 blocks per game) he could be a March hero.  Here are the "real" teams they've played this year and Murray's results:
  • Miami:  16pts, 1 reb (foul trouble)
  • Texas Tech:  8pts, 4 rebs (foul trouble)
  • Stanford: 28 pts, 5 rebs
  • Tulsa:  30 pts, 6 rebs
  • Temple:  48 pts, 8 reb
Pretty nice numbers.  Ok well his rebounding isn't that great and actually his shooting percentages in those games aren't very pretty and he's awfully inefficient for someone with his size and skill but whatever.  It's a story, man.  Or more like a narrative I just started running with and couldn't pull out.  Now they just have to get by Cal Poly, aka Shane Schilling U.  Then he can destroy Wichita.  Probably.

- Very little controversy it seems this year, which is a new thing.  What are the beefs?  SMU out, Louisville a 4 seed, and a loaded region for Wichita?  Pretty low on the outrage meter.  It's nice, because usually people bitch a whole lot more.

-  Really, this is such a fun bracket.  Can team's build on defense but with trouble scoring like Cincinnati, Ohio State, San Diego State, Virginia, and St. Louis have success?  How about high flyers like the aforementioned Iowa State and UNC as well as BYU, VCU, Oklahoma, and Iowa who get up and down the court in a hurry?  There are tested and experienced smaller conference teams like Wichita State and Harvard, and super young teams like Kentucky and Kansas.  New Mexico State is the biggest team in the country by kenpom's Effective Height metric, and three of the five most experienced teams in the entire country made the field (Tex Southern #1, NC Central #4, and Mercer #5).  Then there are teams with guys who could pull a Danny Manning/John Wallace in Oklahoma State, UCONN, and Creighton.  I'm excited every year, but somehow this year seems better, even though there is no Chicago trip :sadface:.

- First pass - Final Four: Florida, Louisville, Arizona, Michigan State.  Other Elite 8s: Syracuse, Creighton, Michigan, UCONN. 

-  Lastly, it could change but I'm taking Florida as my national champion, and yes I realize that's probably going to be a popular pick but I can't help it if this year the popular pick is also the correct pick.  They play great defense and they can play in an uptempo game or a slow down game so they aren't vulnerable to any particular style of play.  They have a guy in Michael Frazier who could win a game by himself by shooting threes, a smart experienced point guard in Scottie Wilbekin, and a mish mash of athletic big men who can pass and are comfortable anywhere on the floor and look like NFL tight ends.  I love having a bunch of exchangeable players who can all do the same things, and Florida has that in spades with Will Yeguette, Dorian Finney-Smith, Casey Prather, Chris Walker, and Patric Young.  Plus they have Billy Donovan.  I know they're the #1 overall seed so it's not exactly going out on a limb, but who is going to beat these guys? I would absolutely love to see a Florida/Louisville game.

Be back later with a preview of the big NIT tilt on Tuesday.  Looking super forward to researching High Point.  Don't act like you ain't all jelly.

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