Wednesday, March 14

One Guy Turbo-Previews the Final Four

First off, check out the regional previews if you haven't yet: South, East, Midwest, and West.

Our F4 participants:
South - (1) Ohio State
East - (2) Georgetown
Midwest - (1) Florida
West - (2) UCLA

Out at F4:
(2) Georgetown, (1) Florida
I can't pick a repeat champion, which is why I have to bounce Florida here. It's nothing personal. Also, I don't think Georgetown can handle Oden inside and Conley outside, although the Hoyas do have a strong guard presence.

Just Missing the Title
(1) Ohio State
Two rules in play here:
1 - the trendy pick never wins the title, it seems
2 - it's not like UCLA has an inside presence for Oden to shut down
In addition, remember that UCLA bit it to lose their 1 seed, so it's not like it should be too surprising here.

Your (more than likely not) National Champion: (2) UCLA

One Guy Turbo-Previews the West Division

Almost home! At least for me. Rest assured that I'm putting just as much thought into the West division as I am any other division (read: none at all).

1st Round Outs
(16s) Niagara / Florida A&M, (15) Weber State, (14) Wright State, (13) Holy Cross, (12) Illinois
Really, I'm just picking on the States here. And trying to piss off Simmons, even though we're using a very similar format for this. I should note that I did try to write semi-extensive team capsules, then stopped after doing 1 because:
1 - they were taking about an hour, at least
2 - there are at least equal ones online
I don't feel too broken up about it. Also, Illinois would've taken the Last Major Conference Team In title were it not for Arkansas. Stupid Arkansas.

(8) Kentucky, (7) Indiana, (6) Duke
Don't call it an upset. Or upsets, whatever. Kentucky hasn't been doing anything all season, Gonzaga's good for a win if they're below a 7 seed, and Duke may be the schauenfreude winner of the tourney.

2nd Round Outs
(11) VCU, (10) Gonzaga, (9) Villanova
Weeding out the chaff here - although the Zags will certainly keep it close against UCLA. I think.

(4) Southern Illinois
Losing just to make sure that no region gets all their top seeds through to the Sweet 16.

Sweet 16 Outs
(5) Virginia Tech, (3) Pitt
Pitt was probably slightly overseeded, but they got here because they had to beat Wright State and VCU. Whoopee. Tech just goes down to a better team.

Just Missing the Final Four
(1) Kansas
This will be a minor shocker, I think, but I also think Kansas may be more tired than UCLA at this point. I love having conclusive, hard evidence that points to a Final Four participant, don't you?

Honestly, since it's not like anyone else has any real ideas on how to pick F4 contestants, I'm just trying winging it.

Out of the West: (2) UCLA

One Guy Turbo-Previews the Midwest Division

I'm on a roll. Why stop now? (Because nobody cares?) Shut up, I didn't ask you.

1st Round Outs
(16) Jackson St., (15) Texas A&M Corpus Christi, (14) Miami (OH), (10) Georgia Tech
To be fair, one of these teams is not like the rest (one of these teams is different. I'm loving the parentheticals today). Georgia Tech just got screwed by going up against an underseeded UNLV team.

(9) Purdue, (6) Notre Dame, (13) Davidson
All charter members of the "let's keep it close so it doesn't look like as much of a blowout" club. Oddly enough, Davidson may have the best shot of a victory out of these guys.

(5) Butler
A runaway winner of the "trendy 5-12 upset pick". Since this blog is all about the trend of not updating in any sort of consistent manner, it'd make total sense to go along with yet another trend. Viva la groupthink!

2nd Round Outs
(12) Old Dominion, (8) Arizona
Either a) not going to happen, period or b) too inconsistent on a night-to-night basis. They have the talent to pull off the upsets, but I don't think they'll happen. It should be noted I'm having a hard time picking winners in this division anywhere.

(2) Wisconsin, (3) Oregon
And this is the bracket that gets blown to hell for the Sweet 16. And no, I didn't actually predict both those upsets in mine, opting to say Oregon beat Winthrop so I could not have my bracket blown to shit by the end of the second round. But if these happen, you read it here first. Both of you.

Sweet 16 Outs
(11) Winthrop, (4) Maryland
This will be Florida's toughest game en route to Atlanta, and ...well, someone's gotta win the UNLV/Winthrop matchup. It's not like they can both be eliminated.

Just Missing the Final Four
(7) UNLV
You know how you pick winners just based on matchups, and then you end up with something weird like half your bracket looking like ass come the Sweet 16 so you have to pick the favorite to make the Final Four so you don't feel like as much of an idiot, only it takes you two rounds to clear out all the deadwood? Yeah, that's this pick.

Out of the Midwest: (1) Florida

One Guy Turbo-Previews the East Division

We've been through this once already. Let's continue on, shall we?

1st Round Outs
(16) Eastern Kentucky, (15) Belmont, (13) New Mexico St., (11) George Washington
Thanks for playing! Enjoy your complimentary tournament gear, and we'll see you next year.

(10) Texas Tech
Eliminated under the little-known "no way in hell am I picking a subpar team coached by Bob Knight" clause.

(8) Marquette

(5) USC, (3) Washington St.
Know how one region always gets blown to hell in the first round, only to look normal by the Sweet 16? Here you are. Arkansas's not very good, but USC left skidmarks going in reverse so far - plus they weren't great. Washington St. plays at a snail's pace, which will play to Oral Roberts' strength. Plus, ORU has the whole veteran leadership thing.

But really, I just wanted to see if you were paying attention and demonstrate my obvious East Coast Bias. (~!)

2nd Round Outs
(14) Oral Roberts, (12) Arkansas
Thanks for blowing a bunch of people's brackets up! Here's your reward - bounced by Vandy and Texas, respectively.

(7) Boston College, (9) Michigan State
This may turn out to be the simplest Sweet 16 prediction.

Out in Sweet 16
(6) Vanderbilt
Doesn't have the horses to hang with Georgetown for 40 minutes - they're a solid team, but that won't get you too much further in the tourney at this point.

(4) Texas
The UNC / Texas game is the toughest for me (and a bunch of other people) to predict. However, I'm going to say this game will unfold very much like the Texas / Kansas game did last Sunday (and on the 2nd of March). I could very well be wrong about this - if I am, that'll be how the next game unfolds.

Just Missing the Final Four
(1) UNC
I have no real reason for this; it's not like I have this giant crush on all things Georgetown. I just don't think UNC can do it - maybe they're worn out from playing Texas, maybe Hansbrough can't go with his mask, maybe Roy Williams turns into a 6-foot chicken on the sidelines. Really, I don't know how Georgetown will get by here .... I just think they will.

From the East: (2) Georgetown

One Guy Turbo-Previews the South Division

Should've done this three days ago. Isn't that a running tradition with this blog, though? Anyway, I'll be doing this on which teams get eliminated when, in order of decreasing confidence.

Round 1 Outs
(16) Central Connecticut St., (15) North Texas, (14) Penn
These guys come straight out of the "no realistic chance" category.

(12) Long Beach State
Yeah, I'll admit this is part homerism. However, while they do shoot the 3 well, that's about it - their guards don't handle the ball particularly well and they don't have a ton of height. I think LBSU could beat up on almost any other 5 seed, but this was probably their worst matchup, as Tennessee does what they do, only better.

(11) Stanford, (10) Creighton
Like LBSU, both of these teams are talented enough to win a game. However, they also both have one major factor working against them:
Stanford - the game is going to basically be a home game for Louisville
Creighton - Nevada's going to get their main scorer back for this game, and what further complicates matters is Nevada's underseeded.

(8) BYU
Token minor upset (this bracket is looking like mostly chalk). It's an 8-9 game, and I don't normally research those games, so I'll go with the hot hand and pick Xavier to win here.

(13) Albany
The UVA/Albany game should be one of those scary not-quite-an-upset games where Albany ends up having a shot to win late, only blowing it. It's a good matchup for Albany - UVA is, among other things, mildly inconsistent and overseeded - but one edge Albany won't have on the Hoo is depth. They will have leadership.

2nd Round Outs
(9) Xavier, (4) Virginia
Thanks for playing. (And yes, let's hear it for homerism.) Xavier can't compete on the inside, Virginia can't compete with a team seeded where it should be seeded. This sets up a Tennessee / Ohio State rematch.

(7) Nevada
Maybe it's an unlucky bounce, but Memphis has enough in the tank to turn a close game into a 8- or 9-point win at this point in the tourney.

(3) Texas A&M
Yeah, I know - say what? A&M's a perfectly good team, but I'm worried about their postseason experience and that they'll basically be playing a road game. I do want to get on the record here and say that if Louisville loses this game, A&M will probably go to the Final Four (as it gets 2 in San Antonio after this, one against a Memphis team they should beat ....and one against - well, tell you in a minute.)

Out in Sweet 16
(6) Louisville
Memphis' path of getting the easiest route possible to the Final Four continues. It would've been better for them had Creighton won their first round game.

(5) Tennessee
Ah, thought I'd go for the Memphis / Tennessee rematch? I'd love to, I'm not going to deny it. However, Tennessee has almost no inside presence and also no answer at all for Oden. Lofton would need to score 35+ for the Vols to win the game - with the Smiths going for at least 15 each, and while I certainly wouldn't put it past him (and them), I think it ends here.

Just Missing the Final Four
(2) Memphis
Finally ran into a team that ....well, is good.

Coming from the South: (1) Ohio State

Monday, March 12

Texas / Kansas: Running Diary of the Big 12 Final

So why on earth am I doing a running diary of this game? There's a few reasons:
1 - Watching Kevin Durant play when he's on is incredible, and it's certainly worth writing about.
2 - Having not seen much of Kansas this year (boo on me for not following a title contender that closely), I wanted a record of how Kansas operates.
3 - After watching Texas blow a 12-point halftime lead at Kansas last week, I was curious to see how the game would unfold with more on the line. The answer: almost the exact same.

3:12: Texas opens with a steal, a Brandon Rush block on the other end, Texas offensive board, another Rush block, with yet a third block on the next Texas possession. This may be a recurring theme, even though Texas scored.

3:15: Durant hits a 3. He follows this up on the next posession by launching a 70-foot pass to the Texas cheerleaders - Kansas ball. He follows that up by hitting another 3. Durant 8, Kansas' Julian Wright 6. What other players?

3:17: First TV timeout. Durant looks sharp so far, Texas has dominated the glass early. It'll be a while before Rick Barnes forgets Durant plays for the Longhorns at this rate - at least 10 minutes. We learn Durant got the ball on 67% of the second half possessions in Texas' semifinal win over Oklahoma St., which seems both low (he's great) and high (that's still a ton). 10-6 Texas.

3:21: Texas' Token Tall White Guy (TTWG - name: Connor Atchley) hits a 2. 14-6 Texas, and we're looking a lot like last week already. Whoops, make that 17-6 Texas - Kansas calls time to stop the bleeding.

3:23: Kansas still can't buy a basket - Durant 9, Wright 6.

3:24 - I think Texas is up on the boards by about 10,000 - 2 right now. Durant 11, Kansas 6, and it's looking ugly.

3:26: Durant goes to the bench for a breather before the under 12 TV TO. Kansas responds with a 2-0 run to cut the lead to 21-8. Boy, it'd be nice if Texas kept that effort up for the entire game, wouldn't it? (Note: foreshadowing) KU's first task in coming back: outscore Durant, then worry about catching the entire team.

3:29: Video package of Big 12 games - three things omitted: 1 - Okla. St.'s horrid road performance (which will be why they don't get a bid), 2 - Texas eating it against KU in the second half, 3 - the Big 12 North (not counting Kansas).

3:31: Durant 14, KU 10.

3:32: KU with yet another block - about the only thing they're doing well so far. If Durant wasn't such a (pick your modifier: force, freak of nature) they'd have a shot at shutting him down, too. Durant 16, KU 10.

3:33: Kansas with yet another timeout - 27-10 Texas. Kansas needs to get on the boards, although since they've come back from worse than this (they did last week), I don't think they're despairing.

3:36: Durant 19, KU 10. Also, there's no such thing as a 10-point play - thanks, Fran Frischilla.

3:38: Kansas with a 3 to cut the Texas lead to ...32-13. We're under 8 now, and we got there by the TTWG stepping on the inbounds line after said 3. It'll be Kansas' ball again, and we're reaching the point where Durant will probably not see the ball again for the remainder of the half.

3:41: KU turnover. So much for that possession.

3:42: Sideline interview disclosure - Celtics' GM Danny Ainge was at the Texas game last night. That sound you heard was Bill Simmons screaming in glee.

3:44: Durant 22, KU 17. Oops.

3:45: Durant 22, KU 19. Comeback! Augustin with an airball - watch him jack up the next 6 shots.

3:46: Durant 22, KU 21. They're almost equaling Durant, but they're still down by 14. Texas really hasn't done much lately.

3:47: Texas calls TO. It's still 35-24 UT, but it's notable for a few reasons: Kansas has looked sharp, Durant hasn't seen the ball much, and somewhere in here Augustin picked up his second foul. Also, Kansas has finally outscored Durant.

3:48: Oops. Durant got a shot (finally) but was blocked; Mason gets the block and drives for 2, making it 37-24 Texas. Kansas is still starting to come around, even counting that last possession.

3:51: Fun times - on ESPN's online broadcast, you can occasionally catch stuff on the announcers' mics that the regular viewers won't get.

3:53: Under 3 minutes - Augustin has been out since about 6 minutes to go. Backtracking a bit, that'd be somewhere around 3:44 in realtime, which is not coincedentally when Kansas started to go on their run. Texas is looking bad offensively.

3:54: Durant steps on the line - 2nd Texas turnover in as many posessions. Durant seems reluctant to take charge offensively, even though the guys who taking charge (Justin Mason, A. J. Abrams, Damion James) shouldn't be.

3:56: Yet another Texas TO - technically Durant's fault, but Mason really shouldn't go into a windup before launching a 120 mph pass at Durant's chest.

3:58: We close the first half like we started it - with a Kansas block. At the half, it's 39-34 UT, and it absolutely shouldn't be that close. Augustin was out and Durant didn't do anything once Augustin left the game.

4:18: After a spirited KU sequence, Sasha Kaun goes down hard, elbowed in the face by James and then falling 9 feet onto his back. Rough time, but he's fine.

4:19: Kansas ends the comedy of errors (no, I didn't write down what they were - yes, that's stupid) with a 3.

4:20: Darrell Arthur goes down hard after an Augustin drive (no foul on either end). Durant? MIA.

4:21: Check that, he just got a Wade-style foul called in his favor. He respondes by charging on the next possession - even though that one was a blocking foul.

4:25: Odd sequence with a ton of bad shots, outlet passes, and dribble drives. Exciting, but it'd be nice if they scored. Durant draws another foul to take us into the first TV TO. Kansas is starting to have some serious fouling issues. 49-42 Texas.

4:28: Durant hits both FTs to go to 24 on the afternoon.

4:30: 2nd half has been very sloppy - of course, as soon as I write that, KU (someone) dishes a nice pass to Wright for the slam.

4:31: Durant's MIA again - when TTWG has to slam it, it's gonna be a long half. 53-49 Texas.

4:32: Announcers are calling out Barnes for being too quiet on the sidelines (it should be noted that Frischilla calls him out, then backtracks so hastily he leaves skid marks) - almost as if he does nothing other than stand around and watch his team blow late leads. Meanwhile, Bill Self has a plan for Durant: beat the hell out of him. Wright picks up his 4th foul.

4:35: Yet another foul on KU at the 11:54 mark - 55-52 Texas, and I'm wondering a few things right now:
1 - will Durant take over at some point? Right now, he's content with getting fouled and letting Abrams and James take bad 15-footers.
2 - will Kansas lose some key players to fouls?
3 - will the "hack the phenom" strategy work? Kansas is damn close.

4:39: Only hot player on the court right now: Sherron Collins. 55-54 Texas.

4:40: Durant answers with a fallaway jumper. Glad to see you again! He's taken the last 2 - no, 3 - shots. 1/3.

4:45: Craig Winder (who? Texas' only senior) hits 1 out of 2 FTs. 58-56 Texas.

4:46: Darnell Jackson picks up his fourth foul - that's two Jayhawks with 4 now. Durant with a lob layup on a pass from James - Durant's got 30 now.

4:47: Brandon Rush with a block - just kidding, he hit a 3. Durant tries a 3 at the other end but misses, Kaun with a great ball recovery, leading to a foul on the Chalmers drive to take us to the under 8 TV TO. 60-59 Texas.

4:51: 61-60 Kansas! Chalmers hits both of them, and Kansas gets their first lead since it was 4-2.

4:52: I've been slagging on Durant for not being more involved, but I haven't given Brandon Rush nearly enough credit, who's played well on both ends of the court, especially defensively. He picks off a pass which leads to another Texas foul - 63-60 Kansas.

4:55: Abrams with a rushed (missed) 3, Collins with a miss on a drive, James with a turnover on a Texas possession that never gets on track, Chalmers with a charge - 4 on him now, too. Feel the excitement! Big 12 basketball!

4:56: Rush hits a couple of FTs to push the lead to 67-62 Kansas - at just under 6 minutes left, we'll be seeing a lot more of that the rest of the way.

4:58: Collins with an awesome drive and reverse layup. Augustin gets tied up - Texas uses their arrow. 69-65 Kansas.

5:02: Durant called for a push - 69-66 Kansas still. Exciting.

5:06: Durant with the last 5 Texas points and a block on the other end - tie game @ 71. 2:30 left. About time Durant started to step up.

5:07: Abrams with a steal, Winder with a putback, Self with a TO. Texas up by 2.

5:08: Dear lord. You'll read about this elsewhere, I'm sure, but Jackson went to save the ball and basically threw it at the backboard - only it bounced off the rim straight to Chalmers, who then proceeds to hit a 3-point play.

5:09: Durant draws yet another foul, and is now to 37 points on the day (1:42 left). Texas by 1, 75-74.

5:11: Abrams with a 3. That's 78-74 Texas with 1:01 left, and Kansas is in trouble ... although if I could choose to be down 4 to any Top-15 team with a minute left, it'd be Texas.

5:16: Winder hits 1 of 2 FTs again, making it 79-76 Texas. For some reason here, UT calls a timeout with 21.6s left. I don't get this; Kansas has used all their timeouts, you know they're going for a three here - why let Self have time to draw up a play?

5:18: Sure enough, Chalmers hits a 3! Tied at 78 with 13.8s left, and UT calls time again. Not surprisingly, they're setting up something for Durant, although my previous wondering of why on earth you'd call time at 21.6s left seems valid now.

5:20: Durant misses. We're going to OT. ESPN celebrates by running the same video package they ran in the first half. Big 12 basketball! 6 exciting games all year!

5:23: James shows his clutchness by getting fouled, missing a bunny, then missing both FTs. Go Texas! As a contrast, Wright nails a jumper making it 81-79 Kansas.

5:25: Superintendent Chalmers fouls out (eh, it was bound to happen) after fouling Abrams on a 3 (okay, Chalmers is an idiot). He gets bailed out as Abrams only makes 2 of 3, but we're still tied.

5:27: Kansas and Texas open up a joint bricklaying venture, and James - who's had an awesome OT already - dribbles the ball off his foot out of bounds.

5:28: Russell Robinson with a J to push it to 83-81 Kansas.

5:29: Foul on Durant after not touching the ball on the previous possession. 84-81 Kansas.

5:30: Augustin's 3 is blocked (Rush? not sure). Missed J @ KU's end, still 84-81. Rush has about 85 blocks today. 22.4s left.

5:34: Augustin drives on Jackson - but Jackson blocks it to himself! Texas has to foul here, and Bill Russell is invoked - cleanup on Bill Simmons' couch. Cleanup on the couch.

5:35: Abrams hits a 3! 86-84 Kansas, 8.3s left. Durant? Who?

5:36: Kudos to Fran for calling a diamond press on Texas's part, which is exactly what happens. Robinson (67% FT) fouled, but hits both. 88-84 Kansas, and they use their last TO.

5:40: Durant misses a 3, Kansas runs out the clock. 88-84 is the final.

So what did we learn about those three questions way up at the beginning of this post?
1 - Durant was absolutely on at the beginning of the game, but a lot of the offense wasn't run through him later on. What didn't help matters was Rush doing a great job on him in the second half and some poor looks. Possible sign of concern here: is he turning it off for periods of time?
2 - Kansas looks damn good right now; their D kept them in the game early, and they've got a very balanced scoring attack. Kudos on the blocks, too.
3 - I kind of already answered this at the beginning anyway, but there were a few reasons:
A) James and Abrams seem to enjoy shooting the ball, even when they shouldn't. James got the ball way too often in OT, and while I didn't keep a good record of it, didn't get many good looks at the basket at all during the game.
B) Not having Augustin in hurt; I was talking with the other contributor here yesterday, and we both decided that even after Augustin picked up his second foul in the first half, you leave him in the game and tell him, "Look, play soft on D, but run the offense. We need you out there to make sure nobody goes insane. We'll rotate toward you on D if we need to." Abrams, James, etc. can't run the offense.
C) An extension of the first two reasons - youth. Augustin and Durant are the only guys that don't really play like freshmen.

Remember this game when you're staring at that Texas / UNC matchup.