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Monday, March 28, 2011

Bracket Busters, Part II: Ohio State falls, My Bracket Goes Up In Smoke

This past weekend proved to be the wildest yet of the 2010-2011 NCAA men's basketball season, with the remaining three number one seeds falling.

Ohio State's loss was particularly painful to watch, if only from the standpoint that as poorly as they played(and their shooting 32% from the floor was their worst all season), they still had a chance to win it as time expired.  You can't fault William Buford, however, for the shot he took, as it was a clean look at the basket.  And I know he ended the game only 2 of 16 from the field, but that doesn't matter either.  But the fact of the matter is that they shouldn't have put themselves in that position in the first place.

To add insult to injury(metaphorically speaking, of course), not only did the Buckeyes get eliminated in the round of 16, but with that loss ended my hopes of winning the Argobright Family pool as well.  In fact, when Kansas lost to VCU on Sunday, they assured that when the tournament ends next Monday, no one in my family will have correctly predicted the winner.

That I will not win the pool does not come as a surprise, even though I only entered one pool this year.  I have repeatedly said that this was anyone's tournament to win, even as I proclaimed my bias was toward OSU.  At this point it doesn't really matter what happens next  Monday(or this Saturday for that matter), as eldest sister-in-law has already won the pool.  Heck, I won't even finish in the runner up spot, either.  That honor will go to my younger brother's girlfriend, who,despite not having picked one correct final four participant, will finish 10 points ahead of me in the standings.  To make matters worse, her pick to win it all was Notre Dame, and they didn't even make it out of the round of 32.  Ouch.

So Saturday my sister-in-law, not necessarily the biggest sports fan herself, took the opportunity to gloat a little.  She sent me a text basically telling me not to cry cause she was in first.  I responded saying it's all luck anyway, that it really doesn't bother me.  What she doesn't know is that I picked my bracket in less than five minutes the Wednesday night before the first round started. That's right, CBS.  I said FIRST ROUNDDeal with it.

So who will cut down the nets a week from now?  The odds favor Butler.  They have been on a roll as of late, and, they were a three pointer away from being defending national champs.  But I really haven't watched much of VCU, although coach Smart has earned that moniker(eh, that's his actual last name? If you say so.)  And as much I have taken shots at Kentucky, they keep finding a way to win.  I have to hand it to coach Calipari, he may not have the deepest team, but he has certainly found the perfect balance between the inside and outside game this season.  So, even though I think Cal is a crook, I predict the Wildcats will win their eighth(or ninth?) title in school history.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sweet Sixteen Madness: Duke gets thwarted (and I didn't even see it)

As the first half of the round of 16(I simply refuse to call it the fourth round, and from here on out I am going to refer to each round by the number of teams left--the final round, of course, will be the championship round), there are a few observations I would like to make:

Last night Duke proved that it was, indeed, the weakest of the number one seeds.  All apologies go out to Pitt fans, but I am not sure the Panthers deserved the number one seed anyway.  The Blue Devils have no one to blame but themselves.  And while I admit I surmised they might make a run at the title, by no means did I say they were a lock.  Even though I fell asleep, it seems their lack of a legitimate inside presence was Duke's ultimate downfall.  I have to laugh at people who say Mason Plumlee is NBA ready right now.  He is too soft.

UConn proved they are more than just Kemba Walker.  The Huskies beat a San Diego State team that played just like that--a team.  It's nice to know that at least three of my final four teams are still remaining, even though BYU could have made it four(more on that in a bit.).

Butler continues its cinderella season.  At the beginning of the tourney, everyone pointed to the showdown between the Buckeyes and the Jayhawks.  Yet if I were in OSU's shoes, I think I'd rather play Kansas. Butler was a rimmed out three pointer from being the defending national champs and seem really unflappable at this point.

Jimmer Fredette finally showed a weakness is his game.  Or maybe its that I watched a full BYU game for the first time, but Jimmer did not really help his team last night.  In my opinion, Fredette's offense consisted of taking the open shot, or, if the open shot wasn't there, passing it to a teammate. Now, don't get me wrong, that is what your supposed to do.  I understand that.  Yet what I am saying is that if Fredette didn't have the shot it appeared that he passed to the nearest teammate, rather than the guy with the best shot. Plus his shot selection could have been better.  I mean, c'mon Jimmer, if you're going to shoot it from 25 feet out you best make it.

Florida continues to surprise people.  It's interesting that I had a conversation the other day about OSU's particularly unimpressive nonconference schedule.  Yet that road win against the Gators is looking that much more impressive.  Could we see a reverse repeat of 2007(where OSU and UF played in the regular season and then again in the championship)? I am all for it, as long as the Buckeyes are the ones cutting down the nets this time.

So, with all the craziness going on last night, who among the remaining four has the most to worry about?  Surprise, surprise, I am going to say Kansas.  On paper, the Jayhawks are supposed to have the easiest road.  Yet that's why the games are played on the hardcourt.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is Butler this year's George Mason (or Butler for that Matter)?

When we watch the NCAA basketball tournament, our eyes are squarely focused on a few things. First and foremost is how well the teams we have picked in our bracket do(and how many upsets we correctly pick).  Then, after a team like a Richmond or a Florida State blows up our bracket faster than an H-bomb, we tend to shift our focus on the one or two teams remaining that we feel have the best shot of cutting down the nets. Finally, while assessing who the favorites are, we come across that one team who could be this year's cinderella, i.e, George Mason a few years ago, or even Butler last year.

And when it comes to sleepers picks, the 2010-2011 college basketball season is no different from any other year.  Some people might have even begun to conclude that George Mason had a legitimate shot until the Ohio State Buckeyes introduced them to how college bb is supposed to be played today.

Having said that, who is this year's cinderella candidate to make it to the final four?  Richmond,? Florida State? Or perhaps Marquette? It seems unlikely the former two would be realistic candidates, only because their respective paths would have to go through Kansas.  Kansas has been upset before(look at last year), but something tells me this year's Jayhawk squad is a bit stronger.

And then there is Marquette, who, if they get past North Carolina has to play the winner of Ohio State-Kentucky. Good Luck with that.

No, could it be that this year's Butler is actually Butler?  Butler shocked the world when it made the final game last season, surely it couldn't do it again?

Why not?

Butler has already established itself as a giant killer, having upset number one seed Pitt .  The hardest remaining test it could face on the road to Houston is a Florida team that many believe to be the worst of the no. 2 seeds.

Not only that, but Bulldogs head coach Brad Stevens is one guy who knows his x's and o's.  Or it at least seems that way.

Finally, if the Bulldogs are indeed this year's cinderella, it will need more strong performances from its center, Matt Howard.  People like to talk about x-factors all day, yet he might be the biggest x-factor out there.

So, will Butler repeat last year's magic?  Odds are against it.  Yet this is March Madness, so never say never.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bracket Busters: Weekend Wildness

So, the first weekend of the NCAA tournament has been over for a few days now.  There weren't any really big surprises, save for Butler advancing over Pitt, Florida State making the sweet sixteen, and Richmond winning two games despite playing in what is considered to be one of the weakest conferences in NCAA Division I college basketball. Yet, despite the fact that for the most part the higher seeds are still alive, there is still plenty of drama left as the next four rounds unfold.

In the Argobright Family pool, I am currently tied for third place, with 410 of a possible 640 points, courtesy of me picking more upsets in the earlier rounds than most people.  I still have all of my final four teams alive; the downside to that is that they are also the lone four teams I can hope make it to the elite eight.  The leader, at 460 points, suffered a huge hit when her pick for national champion, Notre Dame, lost to Florida State on Sunday night. I think her best bet is for all the power teams to lose before the final four.  Yet, like I said before, this pool, like the tournament itself, is still up for grabs.

And even though George Mason looked totally unprepared to handle Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, the way the Buckeyes played only reaffirms my belief that they will cut down the nets in Houston.  Many people would point to the fact that they have yet to play a close game in the tourney as a potential weakness; I don't think it hurts them at all.  They have already played enough close game during Big Ten play to be prepared for such situations; maybe that is why they have won their first two games with such ease.

Kentucky should prove to be the best litmus test for the Buckeyes yet this season.  Buckeye fans certainly haven't forgotten last year's sweet sixteen loss to Tennessee.  But this year's matchup between the Big Ten Champ and SEC Champ should be different, if only for the fact that the Buckeyes have a bit more balance this season.  Nonetheless, the Wildcats will be out to prove they are this year's West Virginia(having already beat the Mountaineers certainly doesn't hurt).

And for all this talk that Duke could be unstoppable with the return of guard Kyrie Irving, from what I heard they certainly didn't seem invincible Sunday.  I say what I heard, because, I have to rely on second hand accounts due to the fact I did not get to watch that game.  Maybe Duke had an off night.  I will definitely make sure to watch some of the game vs. Arizona though.

Finally we get to Kansas.  They beat Illinois in convincing fashion, but does that mean they should be the favorite to win it all? The Buckeyes beat the Illini twice this season and barely broke a sweat.  Nonetheless, rock chalk still has the easiest road to Houston (not sure how that happened).  Should they get there they might have to face a tough Wisconsin team or last year's runner up, Butler, both of whom would provide for interesting storylines.

 Which brings me to my next point: can Butler repeat last year's magic? 

Okay, so that is a lot of information to digest.  Hopefully this weekend will bring more surprises and excitement to the 2011 NCAA tournament.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

NCAA First Round( Or Second, Sorry Guys at CBS... Geez!) In the Books

So, the first round of the NCAA tourney is officially in the books(yeah I still don't buy the play-in games as a round, its merely a way for the networks to fill slots so they don't have to air reruns), and a few observations can be made.

First off, regarding my position in the Argobright Family tourney pool...I am in fourth place (out of four! ouch!! just kiddding, there are actually nine people in the pool), and I still have the most possible points remaining.  I only went 23-9 the first round(Penn State could have helped me, and I didn't see Michigan winning the way they did), but I have 15 of 16 teams still alive for the next round, including all final four participants. In regards to remaining points available, I am tied with my oldest brother, Vic, but he has decided OSU won't win it all, selecting Kansas instead(and his final four is slightly different than mine.)  But it is still anyone's pool, just as its anyone's tournament.

As for an analysis of the games that were played, well, there was really any shockers on the first two big days of games(I hate CBS and all this second round bs, seriously! we're only in the second round today!).  Unless you count Morehead State's victory over Louisville, which was sort of surprising, yet I wasn't too sure about the Cardinals anyway.  Same goes for Georgetown, I commented to a friend that I didn't think they were that strong this year.

The real story in the FIRST ROUND (CBS... Deal With It!) of the NCAA Tournament has to be Michigan Wolverines defeat of Tennessee by 30 points.  No one saw that coming.  And CBS is already making excuses for the lopsided defeat, saying that Tennessee quit because of the issues surrounding head coach Bruce Pearl. Heck, even a Volunteer player offered the same lame excuse.  Come on! It's the NCAA Tourney! If you guys in Knoxville can't get up to play in the first round, regardless of what may be happening to your coach, you don't have a pulse.  That being said, I am eager to see how the Second Round matchup between Duke and Michigan plays out.

Finally, regarding the four number one seeds: all held up to form.  For a minute there, I was worried that Ohio State was going to struggle with Texas-San Antonio.  And they did.  For two or three minutes, If we are going to be technical about it.  And Kansas got a scare from Boston. For a half.  All joking aside, these two did nothing to dispel the notion they are on a collision course to meet in Houston.  Although Duke made a convicning case that the defending National Champs are not to be taken lightly either.

So, its on to the second round of the first weekend of games... as an aside, if you don't want to hear Charles Barkley ramble on endlessly, they are showing the games on four networks this year (CBS, TBS, TruTV, TNT)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is Duke actually the worst Number 1 seed?

There has been a lot of fuss surrounding the seeding of this years NCAA men's basketball tournament, and most of it has to do with who was left out, and who among the lower seeds received a higher seeding than they should have. Nonetheless, there is an argument to be made that even the NCAA got it slightly wrong with the number one seeds. This is not to say that the current number one seeds are not deserving, only the order of the four is somewhat incorrect.  The biggest contention here could be made by Puke, er, Duke, who might have the deepest team on the floor, not to mention one of the best coaches of all time.

It is no secret that Duke is as hated in basketball as the Yankees are in baseball.  Heck, even I have jumped on the Puke dislike bandwagon(as an aside, I really don't dislike Duke, it is sort of a running joke, as they used to be my favorite team all throughout my high school and college days,  in part probably because the local teams I had to root for werent that great.)  However,  there is no denying that Duke is a talented squad, and rumor has it they are due to get back point guard sensation Kyrie Irving, who, before being injured, was considered to be a top 3 pick in this year's NCAA lottery.

It also goes without saying that Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of the Duke Blue Devils, is one of the greatest in the game.  His resume is almost unparalleled, as he has led his team to 11 Final Fours in the past 20+ seasons, including four national championships. As far as that goes, no other active coach comes close to what he has accomplished.

If those weren't enough, consider this: even if  Irving doesn't return, the Blue Devils also boast Nolan Smith, who is making a strong push to be considered as a Naismith finalist, and Kyle Singler, last season's most outstanding player in the tournament. 

So why then is there all this disrespect for Duke all of a sudden?

It seems Duke is in the tournament every year, and they are always seeded fairly high, for starters.  Eleven final fours in 20 years might sound impressive, but when you receive a top three seed annually, expectations begin to grow.  Duke has been known to collapse in given years.

Then, despite being a hated team, there is the perception that Duke is too soft this season to do any damage, that the loss of center Brian Zoubek will hurt them in the paint.  It is true that Zoubek's defense and rebounding will be missed, but is not as if they don't have the bodies to replace them.  And if the Blue Devils can get to the foul line watch out.

At the end of the day, it is anyone's tournament, and Duke, just like Kansas or Ohio State, has just as good of a chance to cut down the nets.  History says that when the Blue Devils are seeded number one, they do not disappoint.  And even though I am not big on historical trends myself, if I had to do it over again(and could put aside my Ohio State bias), I might be picking the Dukies to cut down the nets in Houston.  That's the great thing about college basketball, though.  In a one and done scenario anything can happen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Picks for 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

So. I've finally filled out my 2011 NCAA bracket, and after much deliberation, and, a flip of the coin, I predict the winner to be... the University of Maryland.  Gary Williams squad is just too deep, and Juan Dixon is unbelievable.  Yep, the Terrapins are going to win their first Tournament Trophy in school history.

Wait, what's that you say? Maryland isn't even in the tournament? Really? Maryland has already won an NCAA title??? And Juan Dixon is in the NBA? Hmmm....

Ok, so I was just seeing if you were paying attention, now its time to get to brass tax, and quickly.
Without a detailed breakdown, here are my picks, from the elite eight beyond

Elite Eight: Ohio State, Syracuse, Texas, UConn, Kansas, Notre Dame, Kansas St, and BYU.

I think Texas and Jordan Hamilton will be too much for Duke even with a returning Kyrie Irving, and again, I am not superstitious so I don't buy that ACC Tourney Bull(for those of you who are don't know, Duke and UNC have met in the finals of the ACC Tournament five times previous to this season since 1991; each time the winner of that game has made it at least to the Final Four of the NCAAs).  Kemba Walker has the Huskies playing strong, and the Cougars show that BYU is more than Jimmer Fredette, even without senior Brandon Davies available.

Final Four: Ohio State, UConn, Kansas, and BYU-Ohio State outlasts the 'Cuse zone in a physical game, and Fredette magic continues. Meanwhile UConn and the Jayhawks continue to roll

Championship game: Ohio State vs. Kansas:  Buckeyes beat Huskies in a matchup of two of three finalists for Naismith award (Sullinger and Walker).  Rock Chalk Jaywhawk end Jimmer's magical season.

NCAA Champion: Ohio State.  Like I was gonna pick anyone else? Hello??! Have you not been reading my blog?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March Madness Is Here!!!!

So it's that time of year again...where everyone goes a little crazy.  Some might say that it will drive people mad.  Mad enough to even call off work, like more than a few people at my job are prepared to do tomorrow(not including myself)...but I digress.  Without further ado, I would like to welcome everyone to J-Rod Sportszone's March Madness Preview!

The first four games of this year's tournament have proved to be... what 's the word for it?  Oh yeah, that's right, they are boring (big yawn). Even as I write this entry Virginia Commonwealth is playing USC, but I don't know who is winning.  Wait, let me check and I'll get back  to you. Or maybe I won't.  I think the most exciting play from these four games has to be UNC Asheville's three pointer to send the game into overtime versus the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, but you would hardly know it based on fan reaction (or lack thereof.)  It was a valiant effort by the NCAA to add a new wrinkle, I would just say keep trying.

So, picking this year's winner should be a piece of cake, no? It's Ohio State all the way, right? Well, maybe.  I like their chances as much as anyone in the 2011 field.  There is no doubting this year's version of the Buckeyes are more talented than the 2009-2010 squad.  Gone is player of the year Evan Turnover, I mean Turner. Jared Sullinger is a forced to be recokned with inside, so much so that he was genuinely shocked he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year.  Or could it be that he was shocked that Big Ten Player of the Year went to JaJuan Johnson of Purdue instead of himself?  And David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and William Buford have all stepped up their respective games this season, no longer waiting for someone else to take charge first.  You definitely get the feeling this could be Thad Matta's best team yet.

Nonetheless, there are a few things that have given reasons to doubt the Buckeyes will be cutting down the nets when it is all said and done in Houston in a couple of weeks. First and foremost is daunting bracket that includes perennial powers Kentucky, North Carolina and Syracuse.  Not to mention that if they get by those three they might have Puke (I mean Duke) awaiting them in the final four.  And I know I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I don't believe in superstitions in sports, but the fact that Sports Illustrated picked the Bucks to win it all has me worried.  The biggest question mark surrounding Ohio State has to be their lack of depth.  If Sullinger gets into foul trouble it will be interesting to see if Deshaun Thomas or Dallas Lauderdale can provide the necessary production so the team doesn't miss a beat.

The biggest change to this year's tournament, however, is not that the field expanded from 65 teams to 68, but that I have decided to join the argobright family tourney pool.  The trash talk has already begun, and, even though I have yet to make my picks, I feel confident that I have just as good a shot of winning it all as Ohio State does in the actual tournament.  Plus I am waiting until almost the absolute last moment, so that's gotta help me, right?  I am worried about my nephew, though.  He shows no fear and probably won't second guess many picks, both of which work to his advantage.  We shall see though.

So let the mayhem Randy Moss would say, 'it's gonna be a fun ride.' Number 84 jerseys not necessary, however.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The real story behind the Jim Tressel saga at Ohio State

By now it is old news that Jim Tressel, head coach of football at Ohio State, is guilty of failing to report potential player misconduct to the university when he first learned it.  It is also old news that, in the wake of this scandal, Ohio State's road to winning a seventh straight Big Ten title(either shared or outright) becomes significantly harder.  Yet, at the end of the day, both of those facts seem insignificant to one other storyline: did Jim Tressel purposely withhold sensitive information from both the Ohio State University and the NCAA in order to preserve the playing status of a few of his star players?  The answer to this question is why the current Ohio State football scandal will not die anytime soon.

Tressel's own admission was that he did not report the possible violations for two reasons: 1) he was concerned about the safety of his players, and he was told the information he received was of a confidential nature.  Given the nature and scope of the federal investigation, some of Tress's fears were probably warranted.  After all, he did not want to impede or obstruct the investigation, and to tip off the university, or the players, might have seemed that way to federal law enforcement officials.

The correspondence, however, between Tressel and the Columbus, Ohio attorney, seemed to suggest that Jim Tressel understood the seriousness of the allegations presented to him and that he would look into the matter right away.  Yet he would sit on the information for more than nine months, and, in the end, allow the players involved in the tattoo parlor scandal fall on their own proverbial swords.  That doesn't sound like the actions of someone who has the team's best interests at heart.

That these players sold memorabilia was should not have been the issue here, either.  For a man like Jim Tressel, who teaches all of his players about the importance of the history and tradition of OSU football from the time they first step foot on campus, these players were in a sense thumbing their noses at that very tradition. So, the question then becomes, did Jim Tressel ignore this very fact because he knew he had a very talented team, one that might lead him to his second national title in a decade?  Certainly the fact that these players sold Big Ten momentos had to bug the coach more than he let on, and it is anybody's guess as to why he did not confront the players before December 2010.

And this scandal should serve as a lesson for Thad Matta, too.  Because should the OSU men's basketball team even make it to the Final Four, one can bet that people will be coming out of the woodwork trying to discredit that team as well.  Not that he should have anything to be worried about, only to say that it would behoove him to be upfront from the get go.

In the end, it will be difficult to prove that Tressel did indeed deliberately deceive anyone.  Yet his omission will not sit well with the NCAA, who above all values timely reporting of all infractions, however minor.  Such a delay may lead to Ohio State vacating the 2010 season and the loss of scholarships, as well as an additional suspension for coach Tressel.  Which leads one to wonder if, in the final analysis, it was all worth it for Jimmy T to be silent for all this time.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why sports should not try to emulate someone who is purposely ruining his life.

I just finished reading an article on the Baskerfield Condors--a minor league hockey team based in southern California--that plans to dedicate its game to be played on St. Patricks day to a certain individual who has been in the news recently.  And while I will not share the name of that individual, because I believe he has already received too much press as it is, I will say that I do not find this particular stunt funny at all.  Because this is a man who has made a name for himself abusing drugs, alcohol, and, on occasion, even women. I find it highly disturbing that anyone, let alone a professional hockey team, would try to suggest that this man his a role model.  I understand that hockey is a very violent sport, and that many of its players are by no means saints.  Yet it is a team sport, and I am not sure what kind of message it is sending to young kids by promoting an individual who cares about no one other than himself.  Sure it may be all in good fun, with it being St. Patty's day, but I think they still may have gone too far. Because no man who purposely sets out to ruin his life should be publicly celebrated.