Sunday, March 24, 2013

NCAA Tournament Thoughts After Three Straight Days of Action and Upsets

Here's what we learned about the NCAA Tournament So Far;

1) If you read my NCAA Tournament Primer, I said pick seven to eight double digit seeds to win in the Round of 64 (I refuse to say second round.  The Play in Games are NOT the first round).  Well, we were on the mark with EIGHT double digit seeds winning their first round games - #15 Florida Gulf Coast, #14 Harvard, #13 LaSalle, three #12 seeds - Oregon, Mississippi and California, #11 Minnesota and #10 Iowa State.

2) At least two double digit seeds will make it to the Sweet 16.  Oregon has already made it with a win over St. Louis and another double digit seed will advance when #12 Mississippi faces #13 LaSalle.  There are three other possible double digit seeds that could make the Sweet 16 today - Florida Gulf Coast, Minnesota and Iowa State.  Based on the last several years of the tournament the odds are that maybe one of those teams makes it to the Sweet 16.

3) PAC-12 Teams were criminally underseeded.  Oregon was certainly not a #12 seed as they smoked Oklahoma State and St Louis easily by double digits.  Arizona definitely looks a #4 seed not a #6 seed as they have walloped Belmont and Harvard so far.  Even #12 California deserved more like a #10 seed after they outplayed UNLV.

4) A lot of people's brackets are in flames, including yours truly.  No one expected New Mexico, Georgetown, even St Louis to be gone by now.  Then last night #1 Gonzaga went down in a heap to a hot shooting, physical Wichita State team.

5) Speaking of Wichita State, SI's Andy Glockner wisely pointed out that during late in the second half over nine straight possessions, the Shockers scored twenty three points.  That's over two and a half points per possession. That's sick.

6) As I correctly noted about picking teams based on whether their strengths are neutralized based on the matchups, though with a tinge of sadness as I love VCU, Michigan's ability to hold onto the ball, plus playing in Auburn Hill was just too much for VCU.  The Wolverines did exactly what you have to do against a press team, once you break the press, you attack the basket.  Michigan had twelve turnovers but also had seventeen assists and shot twenty five of forty from two point range (62.5 percent).

7) Florida Gulf Coast is a pretty athletic team.  Chase Fieler is going to be an NCAA Tournament sensation for years to come with that incredible dunk, which was only missing a Gus Johnson play by play call from it bringing down the Internet.   The Eagles had not only beaten another #2 seed in Miami during the regular season, but also played VCU, Duke, Iowa State and St John's for a good non conference schedule that Seth Greenberg should learn from.  Throw in a good coach with NBA assistant coach experience, the coach's gorgeous Maxim Model basketball and football fan wife and the fact they have a legitimate shot of beating San Diego State, and FGCU could be the talk of the Sweet 16. And oh yeah, seven of the nine top players for the Eagles return next season.

8) Louisville looks dominant.  We'll see how the Ducks Express does against the Cards. Michigan State looks equally dominant.  We might have a very colossal Elite Eight game if the Spartans survive the Creighton/Duke winner.

9) Kansas plays North Carolina today, which will be very entertaining.  There are a lot of Jayhawks' fans who would love to see Roy Williams sent packing by KU...again.

10) Wichita State has an excellent chance of making the Elite Eight, likely against Ohio State.  The win over Gonzaga was no fluke. The Shockers dominated Pitt with physicality and took down Gonzaga with a 14 of 28 aerial assault from beyond the arc.

All the rest of #2 seeds play today.  Let's see if the historical percentages of less than half making the Elite Eight continue to play out in the rest Round of 32 (Georgetown already lost)

Monday, March 18, 2013

2013 NCAA Tournament Primer

"It's the most wonderful time of the year" - Andy Williams

Andy Williams wasn't really singing about Christmas...okay, he was.  But really he should have been singing about March Madness, which really is all of March, since it started over two weeks ago with mid major tournament conference play.  For those of you in NCAA Tournament Brackets or if you just like watching college basketball like me, here's some things to look for based on recent tournament history.

1) Pick Seven to Eight Double Digit Seeds to win in Round of 64 - Since 2006, with the exception of 2007 when only two double digit seeds made it past the Round 64,  double digit seeds on average have won seven games in the Round of 64 (2012 - 9, 2011-6, 2010-8, 2009-8, 2008-6, 2006-8).

To go even further, since 2006, #12 seeds have won eleven Round of 64 games.  #11 seeds have won thirteen Round of 64 games. #10 seeds have won twelve Round of 64 games. Since 2006, with the exception of 2007, A #13 seed has won at least one Round of 64 game.

Based on the odds, figure at least two #10 seeds, two #11 seeds, two #12 seeds and one #13 seed are going to win their Round of 64 games.

2) Don't Pick Double Digit Seeds in the Second Round - Since 2006, no more than three double digit seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16 (2012 -3, 2011-3, 2010-3,2009-1,2008-3,2007-none, 2006-2).   So even if you think any team can win this year, temper your enthusiasm when it comes to double digit seeds in the second round.  Pick maybe one or two exceptions and go with chalk.  See #4 for more details.

3) #2 Seeds Often Die Before the Elite Eight - I saw a CBS statistic last night that only 42.5% of #2 seeds make it to the Elite Eight.  That's less than half folks.  If you are picking more than two #2 seeds to make it to the Elite Eight, check again.  If you want to do well in your office pool, pick two #2 seeds to either  lose in the Round of 32 or certainly in the Sweet Sixteen.

4) Know Where Certain Teams Are Playing - The Committee is often very generous in giving teams basically home games in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  This year is no exception - Michigan, Michigan State, California, Louisville and Ohio State are playing in their home state for the first two rounds.  Kansas and Kansas State are playing in the familiar territory of Kansas City, Missouri, which hosted the Big 12 Tournament last week.

If you think for example VCU has a great chance of upsetting Michigan on what's basically a home court, you may want to rethink.  Likewise, temper your enthusiasm for Iowa State/Notre Dame vs. Ohio State.

However, from #2, if you think a double digit seed is going to make it to the Sweet 16, look for a double digit seed playing on a neutral site.  Minnesota, my #11 pick to go to the Sweet 16 is playing in Austin, Texas.  Florida has no home court advantage there.  Throw in some good guards and I think the Gophers make the Sweet 16.

5) When Picking Teams in a Certain Round, Check To See if Strengths Are Neutralized...Or Not -  It pays to know your teams.  If you are a Ken Pomeroy insider, you might know that Middle Tennessee is 30th in the country in three point percentage offense and St Mary's is #300th in three point field goal percentage defense.  Likewise, Belmont is #33 in the country in three point field goal percentage offense and Arizona is #276 in the country in three point field goal percentage defense.  Needless to say, I like Middle Tennessee and Belmont in those matchups.

Even more stats for you.  VCU is #1 in the country in turnover percentage defnse at 28.7 percent.  But Michigan is #1 in the country in turnover percentage on offense at only 14.3 percent. The Wolverines are #11 in the country in 2 pt field goal percentage offense.  That doesn't bode well for the Rams who are 258th in the country in 2 pt field goal percentage defense.  

I heard Jay Bilas basically say that the committee gave VCU a golden opportunity of getting the Rams to the Elite Eight.  I disagree. By putting VCU in a potential second round matchup in Auburn Hills against a Michigan team that doesn't turn the ball over, I say the committee didn't do the Rams any favors at all.

Further down the road, many experts have picked Louisville to win it all.  And as many people know, Louisville's strength is their press, as they are second to VCU in the country in turnover defensive percentage at 27.6 percent.  However, they may likely face St Louis in the Sweet Sixteen.  As the Rams have twice found out, the Billikens are strong with the ball.  St Louis is #46 in the country in turnover percentage offense at 17.6 percent and #23 in the country in turnover percentage defense.  I like the Billikens to knock off the Cardinals.  

I stopped doing brackets years ago because it's more fun to watch the games play out.  That being said, on request, I am contributing to a friend's site this year with some picks.  Here's who I like;

At Large Play In Games - As I noted, I like Middle Tennessee to beat St Mary's.  Middle Tennessee played a good non conference schedule, better than people think. Plus one of their strengths, shooting the three is a major weakness for the Gaels.

Boise State-LaSalle is a toss up to me.  So I will pick the Broncos to win a close one.  I think either team is capable of beating Kansas State.  So I have Boise as a double digit seed winner in Round of 64

Round of 64 Upsets - Middle Tennessee continues their run knocking off a Memphis team whose best non conference win was Tennessee.  Blue Raiders prove they're the second best team in Tennessee (Belmont is first).

Belmont's three point shooting prowess knocks off Arizona.    Oregon is playing really well.  I don't like Oklahoma State's non conference.  Like the Ducks to win a #5-#12 game.

This is a slight upset with a #9 over a #8.  Wichita State likes physical play and had a strong non conference schedule .  They will beat Pittsburgh.

I have #9 Nova beating #8 North Carolina as well another #9, Missouri beating #8 Colorado State,  So why not make it a canasta and say Temple, another #9, beats mercurial #8 NC State.

As I noted, Boise takes out Kansas State for the sixth straight season a #13 beats a #4.

Fred Hoiberg's #10 Iowa State beats #7 Notre Dame in a shootout.

#11 Minnesota beats a depleted #6 UCLA team without Jordan Adams.

Everyone thinks #11 Bucknell can beat #6 Butler in Lexington.  But that's not going to be the upset in that bracket.  I like #14 Davidson, a veteran team that's terrific on offense to beat #3 Marquette. Something tells me that the Golden Eagles will be looking ahead at a potential return match up with Butler.  The Wildcats will stun them.

Finally #10 Colorado will mercifully end #7 Illinois' wacky season.

Everything else is chalk. Sorry my Iona friends. The Gaels will give the Buckeyes a good run. But in the end, Iona doesn't have enough defense to beat Ohio State.

Round of 32 -  Based on tournament history, two #2 seeds will be gone before the Elite Eight.  So why not get rid of one of them in the Round of 32.  Creighton, who is more than just Doug McDermott, knocks off Duke.

I love VCU.  And if they weren't playing Michigan, let alone playing Michigan in Auburn Hills, I could see them beating most other teams left in the Round of 32.  But the Wolverines are a bad match up for the Rams, especially on what amounts to a home court. Michigan advances.

As I noted, love Minnesota's guards.  They handle the Florida press and we at least have one double digit seed go to the Sweet 16.

A slight upset will be #5 UNLV over #4 Syracuse.  Love Moser and Bennett on the Rebels.

Believe it or not I have chalk with all the other teams - Louisville, who pounds undisciplined Missouri again, St Louis, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Ohio State (only because they are playing in Dayton), Kansas, Georgetown, Indiana, Butler and Miami.

Sweet 16 -  I really believe St Louis knocks off Louisville.  Love their guard play with Jett and Mitchell.  Michigan State and the Fighting Izzos knock off Creighton.

Wisconsin has been playing really well.  I think they take out Gonzaga.  New Mexico is such a terrific defensive team and they have played such a strong schedule overall.  Snell is the difference in beating Ohio State.

Michigan is a much better match up than VCU for Kansas.  McElmore, Withey, Johnson etc beat the Wolverines.  Meanwhile Georgetown's Otto Porter guns down Minnesota.

Indiana outlasts UNLV in a shootout.  Miami's length, especially at guard with Larkin and Scott will be too much for Clarke and Butler.

Elite Eight - Something tells me Michigan State beats St Louis.  I never bet against Izzo with a Final Four on the line.

New Mexico knocks off another Big Ten team in Wisconsin. Defense wins the day here.

I say there has to be one #1 seed in the Final Four.  Kansas makes Jaden Daly happy and ends Georgetown's run.

Hate to say it for all those Larranaga haters out there, but he's got a really good team.  Again Scott and Durand are too much for Indiana.

Final Four - Michigan State ends New Mexico's run.  Meanwhile, Miami beats Kansas in a dandy.

Final - I have been impressed with Miami all season.  Scott and Larkin take home the title and beat Michigan State.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Quick Thoughts From the Past Weekend

It was a crazy weekend of college basketball. Well it has been all season, but it got magnified this past weekend. Here's a recap of some of the things that happened.

1) WCC- Loyola Marymount, who had one win in conference all season takes down Santa Clara Friday night in the WCC Quarterfinal, their third win of the conference tournament. Then on Saturday, they lead Gonzaga for most of the first half in their semifinal before losing to the Zags.  Meanwhile, #3 BYU loses Friday night to #6 San Diego, ending any faint hopes the Cougars had at an large.  Then San Diego nearly pulls off another upset Saturday night on Saint Mary's.  Matthew Dellavedova saves the Gaels in overtime and likely locks up an at large bid for SMC.

2) NEC Saturday - The Northeast Conference has one of the best mid major conference tournament setups. All the tournament games are played on the highest seeds home court. In a small conference like the NEC, that makes sense. You get your best crowds on the home court and rewards the teams for the regular season play.

That being said, guess what happened in the NEC semis? Both home teams, Robert Morris and Wagner lost. Not only did they lose, but they got hammered. So your final is #5 Mount St Mary's against #3 LIU. For the third season in a row, the NEC championship runs through Brooklyn.

3) CAA Weekend - For the first time in seemingly ever, the CAA Tournament was played on a true "neutral" site. Well, that's because VCU left the CAA for the A-10. Anyway, Saturday featured three games that were all decided by six points or less, all decided in the last minute. Mason survived a late Drexel rally to win 60-54. Then #2 seed Delaware had to hold off #7 Hofstra 62-57. The Pride had a lead for a good part of that game. Finally JMU barely beat W&M in the last semi.

But all that pales in comparison to yesterday. A year removed from being down to VCU 32-4 in the CAA semifinal before rallying to only lose by ten, George Mason decided to channel the Rams and jump out to a 31-7 lead on Northeastern. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Huskies went on a 26-2 run to tie the game at 33. Much to their credit, Mason came back and held the lead till very late in the game until Northeastern pulled off the comeback, winning in the last couple of seconds on a Jonathan Lee layup.

Then of course in the finale, what's a CAA Tournament game without controversial officiating. Apparently in the last twelve seconds, Delaware was not affected not by one but two questionable calls. One call had Jarvis Threatt called for being out of bounds. Replays clearly show he was not out of bounds. Then with a couple of seconds left, Jamelle Hagins is called for a foul on what many thought was a jump ball. Devon Moore's two free throws capped a late James Madison rally and the Dukes are in the CAA final for the first time since 1999.  At least we'll finally see a different CAA team make the tournament besides George Mason, VCU and Old Dominion since UNCW won the championship in 2006.

4) OVC Final - With many Power Six conference teams anxiously watching from their TVs or online, Belmont, a team that many thought could get an at large berth if they didn't win their conference tournament had to rally against perennial OVC champion Murray State to force overtime. With the game tied in extra regulation, Racers star player Isaiah Canaan actually dribbles off his foot to cause a backcourt violation. Then Kerron Johnson, a few minutes removed from gashing his chin and playing with w large bandage on his face, calmly hits a short jumper to send the Bruins dancing for the third season in a row.

5) MAAC Weekend - So you're a high seed in the MAAC Tournament? This past weekend wasn't kind to you. In the Quarterfinals on Saturday, #2 seed Rider and #3 seed Loyola lost their games. On Sunday #1 seed Niagara lost to #4 Iona. It was a microcosm of the MAAC season where it seemed six or seven teams could win the conference. Well, if you have #3 LIU hosting #5 Mount St Mary's in the NEC, why not have #4 Iona playing #6 Manhattan in the MAAC.

Even the women's MAAC tournament had an upset where #3 Fairfield went down in flames to #6 Siena. But at least the top two seeds, Marist and Iona are in the final. Both won their two games in the MAAC tournament by double digits.  Their championship will be played today at noon on ESPNU and on Watch ESPN online.

6) Sun Belt - Well, Middle Tennessee State had to go out and lose in the conference semifinal last night to Florida International.  In the possible irony of ironies, FIU may make the tournament in the first season after they suffered through Isiah Thomas as their head coach for several seasons.  Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders, who dominated the Sun Belt with a 19-1 regular season record, have to hope their 28-5 record will be good enough for an at large. Not sure about that.

7) America East - Another #1 seed fell as Stony Brook lost to #4 seed Albany, the host for the first two rounds of the America East Tournament.  The Seawolves rallied from a ten point second half deficit to tie the game at 59 on two Dave Coley free throws.  But Mike Black nailed a layup with less than three seconds left to win the game for the Great Danes.  It was the fourth season in a row that Stony Brook was either the #1 seed or played in the America East Tournament Final and failed to get the automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.  More on this in a little bit.

8) Power Six Conference Games - Maryland had a chance to help themselves and hurt Virginia last night. But the Terps blew a late game lead on the road and the Cavaliers won in overtime.  Maryland is likely done and Virginia actually gets a first round bye in the ACC tournament with the win. That's because North Carolina State pulled a clunker by losing at Florida State on Saturday.

Kansas could have done a lot of other bubble teams a favor by beating Baylor on the road Saturday.  But the Bears managed to keep themselves alive upsetting #4 Kansas easily 81-58.  The Bears finish 9-9 in conference and with a couple of wins in the Big 12 Tournament, could make things even more interesting come Selection Sunday.

Meanwhile in the SEC, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ole Miss complicated the bubble even further by all winning.  The Wildcats, who supposedly didn't have a good win all season, well they fixed that by beating #9 Florida at home. With the win, Kentucky gets the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament.  The Volunteers held on at home to defeat Missouri 64-62.  And Ole Miss locked up the number three seed in the SEC tournament by winning at LSU 81-68.  It was the Rebels twenty third win of the season.

In the Big Ten, Illinois and Minnesota complicated their matters as far as NCAA Tournament at large bids by both finishing 8-10 in conference.  Meanwhile, Iowa put themselves back into bubble talk by beating Nebraska and finishing 9-9 in conference, good enough for the six seed in the Big Ten Tournament.  The Hawkeyes have twenty wins on the season now.

Finally, I want to discuss how some mid major conferences, the Sun Belt and more specifically, the America East run their conference tournaments.   First, read this terrific quick post by Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner.  He's dead on with his assessments on how these conferences are not sending their best teams to the tournament.  

In the case of the Sun Belt, you have a 19-1 Middle Tennesee State team whose reward for their impressive regular season was playing a neutral site in Hot Spring Arkansas.  The question is was it worth it to have the conference play the tournament at a neutral site?  The Sun Belt doesn't have a TV agreement with ESPN so their semifinal games weren't even on Watch ESPN.   Also can anyone tell me the attendance for last night's semifinals?  At most, it would be 6200, because that's the capacity size for the Summit Arena, which hosts the Sun Belt tournament.

If the Sun Belt's reasoning for hosting a tournament is having a large crowd, there are several campus sites like Arkansas State (the #2 seed, who also lost last night to #6 Western Kentucky) that have at least a 5,000 seat capacity.  Heck, Middle Tennessee's Murphy Athletic Center can seat over 11,000.  So why not do what the NEC or the Patriot do and have tournament games on home site.  Or reward the #1 seed like the Horizon does and host several rounds or the semifinal round on the #1 seed's site.

It's even worse in the case of the America East.  Since 1996, one conference member has hosted the America East Tournament.  From 1996 to 2001, while Delaware was in the America East, it was the Bob Carpenter Center.  Since then it's been Boston (Matthews Arena - Northeastern and Walter Brown Arena and Agganis Arena, Boston University), Binghamton Athletics Center, Chase Arena, West Hartford and SEFCU Arena in Albany (twice now).

When Hofstra was the #1 seed in the America East in 2000 and 2001, my friend Tieff and I joked each year "We have to survive Delaware (meaning the tourney games in Delaware)".  Fortunately, we didn't have to play the Blue Hens during those rounds those two years (they were the #2 seed and the Flying Dutchmen/Pride played them at home in the championship game).

DefiantlyDutch, who disagrees with me, notes that six times over the seventeen years, the host team has defeated a higher seed in the tournament. So that's one time every three years, which is not a lot, but more than you think.   That also doesn't count the numerous times a higher seed has lost in the first two rounds to a non host member lower seed.  Top seeded teams face a hostile environment because all the fans except your own are rooting against you, including the home team if they are still in the tournament.   And I know the BOB was sold out the last two seasons Hofstra was in the America East Tournament.

And that was the fate of Stony Brook last night.  The #1 seed played the #4 seed on their home court.  And Albany is a pretty good team.  Ask Washington how good the Great Danes are.

The fact is that SEFCU Arena seats 5,000 fans.  So for two days, you had maybe 5000 fans each day. So instead of having 10,000 fans in a league member's site, why not have seven games at highest home team's site.  Wouldn't you end up having more fans see the games overall?  Yes Patrick Gymnasium (Vermont) and Pritchard Gym (Stony Brook) are small gyms.  But even with them and SEFCU and Chase Arena, I guarantee overall more fans see those seven games on home teams' sites than two days in Albany.

Also for these conferences to really show how good they are on a national scene, don't you want to try to have your best teams represent you?  Middle Tennessee State and Stony Brook are good enough to win first round games in the NCAA Tournament.  Kid you not.  But now we won't find that out in Stony Brook's case and won't likely find out in Middle Tennessee's case.

The NEC, the Patriot, the Atlantic Sun, the Horizon and the Ivy, where there is no conference tournament, do things the right way.  They place a high regard on the regular season.  As Glockner notes, that allowed Cornell to get to the Sweet 16 in 2010.  What about Butler's success in the NCAA Tournament?  How about Lehigh vs. Duke last season?  Even Belmont when they were in the A-Sun when they almost knocked off Duke.  They all came from conferences, Ivy, Horizon, Atlantic Sun and Patriot that made the regular season count.  Thus you had the best conference teams representing and in a lot of cases WINNING in the NCAA Tournament.

It's time mid major conferences like the Sun Belt, the Southern and especially America East to start regarding
the regular season more. Heck even the CAA should consider it once their agreement with Baltimore ends.  Otherwise they are only hurting themselves as far as potential national reputation.  And simply put, it's not rewarding a team's regular season accomplishments.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

It's All About Family (Recap of Mississippi State v. South Carolina)

On February 21 at about 5:00 PM, our house in New York finally was sold. The house closing was over. We were officially no longer North Bellmore, New York residents.   The house closing was six months and three days after I had first driven down to South Carolina with my two door Honda Accord packed to the hilt to start my new job at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Over those six months, there were many lonely evenings spent in a rented three bedroom two bathroom house in Columbia wondering if February 21 would ever occur. My wife and two sons were up in North Bellmore while I was down here. Nothing like paying a mortgage and a house rent, hoping all along that there would be no catastrophic events that would cancel the house sale.  Despite an awful first house appraiser and the delays resulting from that, eventually the house sale went through.

During this time period, I tried to get up to New York whenever I could. The Friday night 7:15 PM Jet Blue flight from Terminal D, Gate Four at Charlotte International Airport became my best friend.  A few more flights and I should be good for a free flight based on True Blue points.

During this college basketball season, I went to whatever games I could. When I was up in New York, I went to Stony Brook, Iona men's and Iona women's games and of course, Hofstra. I even was able to go to a tripleheader in Brooklyn. In my last trip to New York, I was able to fulfill a life long dream and be a color analyst on the broadcast of the Canisius vs. Iona women's basketball game. It was a lot of fun being part of a three man booth with the terrific team of Nick Guerriero and Jonathan Stanko.  A few days later, I got to see George Mason vs. Hofstra and even got to spend time with Defiantly Dutch and Hofstra Coach Mo Cassara.

Back down here in South Carolina, I went to several Davidson games, several Charlotte games, even got to see Coastal Carolina and Wofford home games as well. Another life long dream was fulfilled when I saw Iona's women's team take on Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Most importantly, I got two season tickets for South Carolina games. But the Section 113, Row 21, Seat 18 chair was for the most part unoccupied this season. That's because my color analyst, aka my seven year old son Matthew was still up in New York.

Even with all of the above games I went to, I didn't go to nowhere near as many games as last season. Truth be told, I have not written anywhere as much for my site this season as in seasons past. It's not that I am not following college basketball. In fact, during this college basketball season, I have watched more games on TV and online than ever.  My knowledge of power conference teams is much better than last season when I covered fifty eight mid major games for MidMajority and my site (TMM is missing the Drexel-UMass 2012 NIT Quarterfinal game).  It's just that is that I haven't felt like writing and I haven't felt like attending games live as much as I did in every previous season.

Something, actually, someone important has been missing this season. Someone who made last season so much fun to write about. I quickly realized it's not the same without my color analyst.

Finally, on February 22, my family packed up our Honda CRV as full as we could and took a two day drive down to Columbia. We got down here late Saturday afternoon the next day. Our first dinner in Columbia was Sonic, my wife's first ever time having their fast food. Matthew and Jonathan started school here a few days later and both are already on a baseball team that I coach. I am the head coach of Jonathan's tee ball team and an assistant coach for Matthew's coach pitch team.

A few days ago, I tried to get Matthew to go with me to a Saturday night game at Wofford. But Matthew said he wanted to spend time with Jonathan and mommy. Matthew had been here only a week and was just getting used to being in Columbia. He wasn't yet interested in seeing basketball down here.

Finally last night, ten days after my family got down here, Matthew was ready for some southern fried Division I basketball, in this case SEC style. It was the last home game of the season for the Gamecocks and it was also Senior Night as Lakeem Jackson and Shane Phillips were both playing their last game at Colonial Life Arena.

After we had our tickets scanned by the ushers, we made our way upstairs. At the top of the stairs, members of the Carolina Girls were handing out little headshot signs of Jackson and Phillips. We got a Phillips sign and headed to concessions. I rarely have anything other than water at the concessions stand. But Wednesday night, I had raced home from work, changed, then took Matthew back to the same parking lot I park in for work, without anytime for food. I was starved.

I decided to order a Philly cheese steak sandwich w fries. Turns out they had to make it and it was going to take ten minutes. Being the stat head that he is, Matthew timed how long it took and he noted as they were bringing my sandwich and fries that it was eleven minutes. But a fresh hot cheesesteak sandwich was a lot better than all the Bojangles chicken tender boxes that were sitting a long time under the microwave lights. The sandwich was very good and worth the wait.

As we got to our seats about twenty five minutes before game time, the arena was again as empty as it was twenty five minutes before the game against Missouri I saw last week. But unlike the game against the Tigers, there were no Bulldogs' fans to be found. That's likely due to Mississippi state having three wins in conference, the same number of wins as the Gamecocks. So yes, it was a battle of who could escape the SEC cellar.

It didn't take long for Matthew to be in color analyst mode. He studied the Mississippi State layup drill, then announced that he was better than one of the Bulldogs' players, likely a walk on. Considering they were 3-13 in conference heading into Wednesday night's game, he was probably right.

After both teams finished their last practice drills, they had the Senior Day ceremonies for the two basketball managers, Jackson and Phillips. And it was only fitting that the first Gamecocks' points were scored by Jackson on an old fashioned three point play and then a jumper by Phillips. South Carolina was up 5-2 early.

The Gamecocks would extend their lead to six, 10-4, thanks to the efforts of junior guard Brenton Williams. Williams would first have an assist on Brian Steele's three pointer, then hit his first three pointer on the evening. It would later become a common theme for Williams.

The Bulldogs rallied to tie the game at twelve on a Roquez Johnson three point play. Williams would respond to a three pointer to put the Gamecocks up three, 15-12. South Carolina extended the lead to seven, 23-16 on a Lakeem Jackson jumper with a little less than nine minutes left in the half. During this time, Matthew noted that Jackson's number was not listed on the scoreboard. The always observant seven year old had seen that the scoreboard operator had yet to update the scoreboard to include Jackson.

Mississippi State responded with a 9-2 run over the next four plus minutes. Gavin Ware scored the final four Bulldogs' points during the spurt and his jumper gave Mississippi State their first lead of the game, 26-25 with 4:45 left in the half.

During this time Michael Carrera picked up his second foul. Coach Frank Martin rolled the dice and kept Carrera in the game. Shortly thereafter, Carrera picked up his third foul on a questionable call. He visibly showed his displeasure to the referee, who took offense to that displeasure and called a technical foul on Carrera, his fourth foul of the half. But Williams would score seven of the Gamecocks' last nine points to put South Carolina up 34-32 at the half. Williams entered the half with twelve points

The second half saw the Gamecocks quickly outscore the Bulldogs 11-3 over the first five plus minutes as Williams, Steele and Bruce Ellington combined for all eleven points and three assists. The run would be extended to a 25-5 run over the first eleven plus minutes. South Carolina would be leading 59-37.

This was in large part due to Williams who had the second half and game of his career. During the first twelve plus minutes of the second half, Williams had thirteen of the twenty seven points the Gamecocks scored. With eight minutes left in the game, he already had set a career high with twenty five points.

With South Carolina having a twenty two point lead with nine minutes left in the game over a Mississippi State team that had three conference wins all season, you would have thought the game for all intensive purposes was over. But if you have followed the Gamecocks all season, with the exception of the Arkansas game, nothing ever comes easy for South Carolina.

Sure enough, Mississippi State went on a 26-9 run over the span of six plus minutes. It wasn't like South Carolina was completely missing shots from the field. The Gamecocks actually hit three of seven shots in that span. However they missed three free throws and turned the ball over four times in those six plus minutes. Meanwhile the Bulldogs went ten of thirteen from the field with three three pointers. When Craig Sword hit a jumper with about two and a half minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs had cut the lead to five, 68-63.

But of course, who came to the rescue? Williams. He scored six of the last ten South Carolina points, all from the free throw line, where he was a perfect twelve of twelve on the night. The Gamecocks held on for a 78-72 win over the Bulldogs and for at least until Saturday had escaped the SEC cellar.

Williams was fantastic.  He nearly scored half of the Gamecocks' points with thirty eight points on ten of seventeen shooting, including six of nine from beyond the arc to go with his perfection from the foul line.  He even added four rebounds and three assists.  No other South Carolina player scored in double figures.  Ellington had nine points and six assists on the evening for the Gamecocks. Jackson, in his last home game as a Gamecock, nearly had a double double with nine points and eight rebounds.  Sword led the Bulldogs with twenty points while Jalen Steele added seventeen points.

My original plans for this upcoming weekend was to cover the CAA Tournament in Richmond.  Just like last season, I had arranged for a media pass.  I was looking forward to seeing my friends Brian Mull, Mike Brodsky, Rob Canady, Alan Kelly, Rob Russell and the rest of the CAAHoops gang.

But I had signed up to be an assistant coach for both Jonathan's tee ball team and Matthew's coach pitch team.  I ended up being the head coach of the tee ball team at the league's request because no one else wanted the job and I have had two years experience being a coach at that level in North Bellmore.  I had no idea that Opening Day in our baseball league was Saturday, March 9th.  Thus ended any hope of covering the first day of the CAA Tournament.

I still had a chance to cover the CAA Tournament on Sunday.  But Matthew's team has a practice.  On Tuesday, I sat with Matthew, who loves baseball even more than basketball, and asked him would he be upset if I missed practice to cover the CAA Tournament. He thought for a second and said "I want you to be there. Plus you are a really good coach."

Well that sealed it for me.  No CAA Tournament this season.  After six months of so badly wanting my family to be here with me in South Carolina and finally getting them here, I wasn't about to disappoint my color analyst now. I let Rob Washburn at CAASports know that I wasn't attending.  He understood and said he would save me a seat in Baltimore next year.  I said I will be there, as I already got approval from Matthew for next year.

But for now, my color analyst and his love of baseball come first.  It's all about family and it always will be.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

With two weeks left until Selection Sunday, mid major conference tournaments start this week. Often these tournaments throw a crimp in the at large hopes of both Power Six conference teams and non Power Six conference teams. There are some teams that really have locked at large bids; Butler, VCU, Saint Louis, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and now North Carolina are just a few that come to mind. There are over thirty teams that are probably in bubble consideration. A few teams have already played their way out of bubble consideration - St John's, Charlotte, Indiana State, Massachusetts, Iowa and BYU are examples. Let's see who is still bubblicious.

LaSalle (20-7, 10-4 A-10, 39 RPI , 48 BPI, 47 KenPom ) - The Explorers are solidly in the top four of the Atlantic 10. They have good wins over Villanova, Butler and at VCU. Their only bad loss was at the beginning of the year to Central Connecticut State. With two remaining regular season games left vs. George Washington and at St Louis, LaSalle looks likely to be an NCAA at large team even if they lose to the Bilikens. The Explorers though need to avoid a loss to the Colonials and an early A-10 tournament exit.

Temple (21-8, 9-5 A-10, 42 RPI, 57 BPI, 76 KenPom) - The Owls, tied for fourth in the A-10, have a very unusual resume. They have some very good wins; Villanova, neutral site over Syracuse, Saint Louis and LaSalle. But Temple also has some very bad losses; home losses to St. Bonaventure and Duquesne (home loss to Canisius didn't help either). The Owls need to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament by beating some Rams; Fordham and especially VCU, plus make sure to get to the A-10 semifinals. Otherwise, they could be seriously sweating Selection Sunday.

North Carolina State (21-8, 10-6 ACC, 23 RPI, 19 BPI, KenPom) - With their road win at Georgia Tech combined with Virginia blowing a late lead at Boston College, the Wolfpack have probably done enough to make the NCAA Tournament. They have a neutral site win over UConn, a big win at home over then #1 ranked Duke, and a home win over North Carolina. Their only bad loss is at Wake Forest, which compared to many other bubble teams isn't bad at all. They have two games left in conference; home to Wake and at Florida State. Win those two games, get to the ACC tournament semifinals and the Wolfpack will be fine. Any slips, well it then gets a little interesting.

Virginia (20-9, 10-6 ACC, 62 RPI, 40 BPI, 18 KenPom) - Here is a serious Jekyll and Hyde profile. Good wins over Tennessee, North Carolina, NC State, at Maryland and recently Duke. Really bad neutral site loss to ODU, home loss to Delaware, losses on the road at Wake Forest, Clemson and most recently, today to Boston College. They need to win at Florida State and then win the battle of the ACC bubble teams when they face Maryland at home. A trip to the ACC Tournament semifinals could definitely help. Here's a team that is truly on the bubble on Selection Sunday.

Maryland (20-9, 8-8 ACC, 68 RPI, 52 BPI, 62 KenPom) - The Terps are on the wrong side of the bubble at the moment. Their only good wins are home to NC State and of course Duke. The bad losses are getting swept by Florida State and road losses to Georgia Tech and Boston College. If they want any chance of making the tournament they have to win at home vs. North Carolina and win at Virginia, so that they are at least above .500 in conference. Also, Maryland really needs to make the ACC Tournament semifinals as well. The game against Virginia very well will decide their fate.

Villanova (18-12, 9-8 Big East, 55 RPI, 62 BPI, 55 KenPom) - All the Wildcats had to do was hold on and win in regulation against Pittsburgh and their ticket to the big dance would have been punched. Alas, Nova couldn't hold on and lost to the Panthers in overtime. Thus another team sits squarely on the bubble. The good; wins over Louisville, Syracuse, at UConn and Marquette. The bad; home loss to Columbia (?), at Seton Hall and home to Providence. Nova needs to beat Georgetown, no easy task, and win at least one game in the Big East Tournament. Otherwise, there will be a home game in the NIT awaiting the Wildcats.

Cincinnati (20-9, 8-8 Big East, 48 RPI, 30 BPI, 34 KenPom) - A lot of people have the Bearcats on the bubble, due in large part to their .500 record in the Big East. I don't see that. I think they are solidly in at this moment. They have solid neutral site non conference wins over Iowa State and Oregon. They also have a win over Alabama, a road win at Pittsburgh and Marquette. The only possibly considered bad loss is a home loss to St John's. But there are teams on the bubble with far, far worse losses. Bearcats could use a win over Louisville, definitely a win over South Florida, plus at least one Big East Tourney win to end the bubble discussion.

Illinois (21-9, 8-8 Big Ten, 34 RPI, 60 BPI, 39 KenPom) - Another team that has only merited bubble discussion due to their .500 record in the Big Ten. They have a lot of good wins; Butler, at Gonzaga, Indiana, at Minnesota and Ohio State. Their only bad losses are at Purdue and home to Northwestern. They should be in good shape but they can't afford a loss at Iowa. Another road game with Ohio State will be difficult to win. The Fighting Illini should at least win one Big Ten Tourney game just to make sure. But they should be quite fine for an at large at the moment.

Minnesota (20-9, 8-8 Big Ten, 16 RPI, 20 BPI, 14 KenPom) - Again, another Big Ten team that is only getting bubble talk due to their .500 conference record. A lot of good wins; Memphis, Michigan State, at Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. The only bad loss is at Northwestern. Still, the Gophers could make things really interesting for themselves since they have two conference road games left at Nebraska and at Purdue. Lose one or heaven forbid, both and Minnesota will need to make a serious run in the Big Ten Tournament to make up for those losses. If the Gophers win both road games, they will have twenty two wins plus an above .500 conference record. That should easily do the trick.

Baylor (17-12, 8-8 Big 12, 60 RPI, 46 BPI, 51 KenPom) - The Bears are looking at the wrong side of the at large tracks right now. They only have two good wins; at Kentucky and home over Oklahoma State. Other than that, a win over BYU, which looked better earlier in the season. The bad - home losses to Charleston and Northwestern. Baylor must win at Texas, then must, must, MUST beat Kansas at home, plus make a run in the Big 12 Tournament. Otherwise, hello NIT.

Iowa State (19-9, 9-7 Big 12, 53 RPI, 42 BPI, 44 KenPom) - Unlike their Big 12 brethren Baylor, Iowa State looks to be on the right side of the bubble at the moment. They have a wins over Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Plus, they swept the season series vs. Baylor, which will definitely be a measuring stick of comparison between the two teams on Selection Sunday. What makes Iowa State a bubble team is a glaring lack of a good non conference win. Best was vs. BYU, but see Baylor. They also have road losses at Texas Tech and Texas. They could use wins at Oklahoma State and West Virgina, plus one Big 12 Tournament win.

Southern Miss (22-7, 11-3 CUSA, 36 RPI, 59 BPI, 56 KenPom) - The Golden Eagles are on this list, well, I guess just based on their record and their RPI.  Southern Miss is definitely on the wrong side of the bubble right now. There are really no bad losses, except maybe at UCF. However, there are no good wins, they lost to every good non conference team they played and most importantly were swept by Memphis. The Golden Eagles have to win the CUSA Tournament. Otherwise, it's NIT for them.

Akron (23-5, 13-1 MAC, 47 RPI, 50 BPI, 54 KenPom) - Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2012-13 version of the Drexel Dragons. After the Zips won their eighteenth straight conference game, Dan Dakich pronounced that Akron was "a lock" for an at large bid. As much as I like the Zips, especially Zeke Marshall, they haven't done enough to warrant being "a lock" for an at large bid. Their profile screams last season's Drexel team. They have one good non conference win over Middle Tennessee State, plus they swept the season series from last year's Sweet Sixteen Cinderella, Ohio (who again is good this season). But they have a bad loss to Coastal Carolina and now their MAC streak has ended with a really bad loss to Buffalo. Sorry, Akron, but you need to win the MAC Tournament now to make the dance. Otherwise, you will have the same fate of Drexel, a ton of wins in a row, but a trip to the NIT after not winning the conference tournament. I would like to be wrong otherwise, but I don't think so.

Creighton (24-7, 13-5 MVC, 35 RPI, 17 BPI, 20 KenPom) - After losing to St Mary's and likely staring at a second place finish in the Missouri Valley, the Bluejays found themselves a part of bubble talk. But they rallied to take the regular season MVC championship and their non conference resume is very strong. They have good non conference wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, Akron, California, plus a win over Wichita State. The bad include road losses at Drake and Illinois State. The good far outweighs the bad. The Bluejays are in the dance.

Wichita State (24-7, 12-6 MVC, 40 RPI, 29 BPI, 35 KenPom) - The Shockers now find themselves a part of bubble talk, in large part to their own doing. Had they taken care of business at home in conference, Wichita State would have the regular season MVC championship and an at large bid sewn up. However, home losses to Evansville and Indiana State, along with a bad loss at Southern Illinois resulted in a second place finish in the Valley. However, the Shockers have a solid non conference resume; a huge road win at VCU, a neutral site win vs. Iowa, a road win at Air Force, plus a home win vs. Southern Miss. Add a win over Creighton and as long as Wichita State makes the MVC Tournament final, they should be fine. If the Shockers get upset along the way, then the bubble talk only intensifies.

Colorado State ( 22-7, 9-5 MWC, 17 RPI, 33 BPI, 28 KenPom) - The Rams are in pretty solid shape. The Mountain West has been a very strong conference and will likely have at least four teams in the tournament. In fact, the Rams really aren't part of the bubble talk at the moment, but things could change should they lose at Wyoming or home to Nevada. Colorado State has a strong resume with wins over Montana, Denver, Air Force, UNLV, Boise State and San Diego State. Their only bad loss was at UIC. Rams are pretty safe...for now.

UNLV (22-7, 9-5 MWC, 15 RPI, 25 BPI, 30 KenPom) - Again, the only reason UNLV, like Colorado State, is on here is that the Mountain West is unusually deep in teams this season and for a non Power Six conference, if you're not in first, you tend to be bubblicious. The Rebels should be just fine with wins at California, Iowa State, Colorado State, New Mexico and they swept San Diego State. Their only bad loss is at Fresno State. Even if they lose to Boise State (and they won't lose again to Fresno State), the Rebels are in the big dance. Book it.

San Diego State (20-8, 8-6 MWC, 33 RPI, 27 BPI, 26 KenPom) - This is where things start getting tricky in the Mountain West. Three teams based on their record should be in; New Mexico, Colorado State and UNLV. Then there are two teams that might be battling for one spot, but likely two at large spots, San Diego State and Boise State The Aztecs have a solid resume, especially from a non conference stand point with neutral site wins over UCLA and Indiana State (don't laugh, the Sycamores have some pretty strong non conference scalps this season). Plus wins over Colorado State, New Mexico and Boise State. Their only bad loss is at Wyoming. Still they need to win against Air Force, then the huge showdown at Boise State, which could likely lock an at large berth. Also, don't get upset in the first round of the Mountain West Tourney.

Boise State (20-8, 8-6 MWC, 44 RPI, 49 BPI, 52 KenPom) - With help from some other bubble teams imploding, the Broncos have made their way into bubble talk discussion. What helps is an impressive non conference road win at Creighton, coupled with conference wins over UNLV and Colorado State. The bad are losses at Utah and at Nevada. The Broncos have a tough conference schedule remaining; at UNLV and home to San Diego State. A win over the Rebels would be HUGE, but the game against San Diego State is probably most important. A nice run in the Mountain West Tourney could help too. Unless they win the MWC Tournament, the Broncos will definitely be sweating out Selection Sunday.

Belmont (24-6, 14-2 OVC, 25 RPI, 51 BPI, 40 KenPom) - The Bruins have been an especially solid team all season.  The problem is their resume includes only a couple of good wins - Middle Tennessee State and Ohio are their best wins.  Their worst losses aren't terrible - Northeastern, the CAA regular season champ, at neutral site, at UCF and probably their worst, at Tennessee State.  But Belmont probably needs to win the Ohio Valley Tournament to get to the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky (20-9, 11-5 SEC, 51 RPI, 43 BPI, 33 KenPom) -  When Nerlens Noel went down for the season, many basketball experts said the Wildcats' at large bid was at risk.  Then those experts sounded the alarm when in their next game, Kentucky lost by thirty at Tennessee.   The Cats won their next three including an overtime win vs. Missouri before losing to Arkansas.  As of this moment, Joe Lunardi has them as one of the last four in.  I am here to tell you, it's not that bad.  The good - The Wildcats have a neutral site win over Maryland and wins at Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee.  You could probably say their worst loss was at Texas A&M.  There are a lot of teams with worst losses (hello, Virginia).  Kentucky needs to win at Georgia, then muster all their might to beat Florida and then win a few games in the SEC Tournament.  If they can accomplish two of those three goals, the Cats are in the big dance.

Alabama (19-10, 11-5 SEC, 59 RPI, 68 BPI, KenPom) -  The Crimson Tide are right there tied for second with Kentucky in the SEC.  They are only one game behind Kentucky's record.  Yet Bama is on the outside looking in.  Yes, they have a neutral site win over Villanova and a win over Kentucky.  But Alabama has some bad home losses to Mercer and Tulane.  The Tide need to win at Ole Miss, a likely bubble buster game and defeat Georgia, plus they need to make the SEC Tournament final for any hope of making the tournament on Selection Sunday.

Missouri (21-8, 10-6 SEC, 32 RPI, 26 BPI, 70 KenPom)  - The Tigers are probably on this list for the sole reason that they are tied for fourth in the SEC.  But Missouri has little to worry about at the moment.  They have a very good non conference resjme with neutral site wins over VCU and Illinois, along with a win over Bucknell and conference wins over Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida.  Their lone bad loss is at LSU.  Unless the Tigers implode by losing to Arkansas, then Tennessee and a quick exit in the SEC tournament, they are safely in the NCAA Tournament.

Ole Miss (21-8, 10-6 SEC, 58 RPI, 45 BPI, 50 KenPom) - Unlike the Tigers, the Rebels are in serious, serious trouble.  A few weeks ago, they were a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.  Now, they are on the outside looking in.  You can't lose to both South Carolina and Mississippi State, two teams that are in the 200's in RPI.  Their best wins are over Tennessee (twice), Arkansas and Missouri.  Other than that, no signature non conference wins to hang their hat on.   The Rebels are in the same spot as the Crimson Tide.  They need to beat Alabama in the bubble buster game, then win at LSU, then win at least two games in the SEC Tournament. Anything less and it's an NIT bid.

Tennessee (17-11, 9-7 SEC, 56 RPI, 63 BPI, 63 KenPom) - Unlike the Rebels, the Volunteers have a good non conference win in defeating Wichita State.  But other than home wins vs. Alabama and Kentucky, the Vols have little on their resume.  The bad outweighs the good as Tennessee has lost twice to Georgia, who are below them in the standings. The Volunteers basically need to win the SEC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas (18-11, 9-7 SEC, 75 RPI, 74 BPI, 68 KenPom) -  I guess if you have to have Tennessee, you have to have Arkansas.  They do have a non conference win over Oklahoma and wins over Florida, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee.  The bad are losses at Vandy, at Texas A&M, at South Carolina and at LSU.  For them to have any chance for an at large bid, they need to win at Missouri, then beat Texas A&M and then win at least two games in the SEC Tournament.  Sound familiar?  See the two SEC teams prior to them.

Middle Tennessee State (27-4, 19-1 Sun Belt, 24 RPI, 41 BPI, 27 KenPom) - The Blue Raiders have dominated the Sun Belt.  They have a good win over Ole Miss that might come in handy if they are an at large contender on Selection Sunday.  Their only bad loss is at Arkansas State.  They have done everything they can, sans beat good teams on the road like Belmont, Akron (overtime) and Florida.  They will be an interesting case should they not win the Sun Belt.  Here's hoping they win the Sun Belt and make the question moot.

California (20-9, 12-5 PAC 12, 46 RPI, 47 BPI, KenPom) - After losing at Arizona State on February 7, the Golden Bears were 13-9, 7-5 in the PAC 12.  They looked done.  Now less than one month and seven straight wins later, Cal looks to be solidly in the tournament. They have swept Oregon, beat UCLA, Arizona and Colorado.  Their bad losses are to Harvard at home, Washington at home and at Stanford.  There are teams with a lot worse losses.  Cal could sew things up with a win over Stanford plus a trip to the PAC 12 semifinals.

Colorado (19-9, 9-7 PAC 12, 29 RPI, 37 BPI, 49 KenPom) - The Buffaloes are starting to tread a little water having split their last four games.  Still Colorado has a nice neutral site win over Baylor, plus wins over Air Force, Colorado State, California, Oregon and Arizona.  The bad losses are road losses to Washington and Utah.  The Buffs need to close out with a few wins at home vs. Oregon and Oregon State to make sure they punch their ticket to the tournament.

Arizona State (20-10, 9-8 PAC 12, 92 RPI, 67 BPI, 78 KenPom)  - After defeating Cal on February 7, the Sun Devils were 18-5 and 7-3 in the PAC 12. Since then, Arizona State is 2-5.  The good, a neutral site win over Arkansas, two wins over Colorado and a win over UCLA.  The bad is bad; RPI is 92 (!), lost to DePaul at home, lost to Washington twice, home loss to Stanford and a road loss to Utah.  Plus their final regular season game is at Arizona, a team they lost to at home by seventeen.  Unless they shock the Wildcats and make it to the PAC 12 Tournament final, no at large for the Sun Devils.

Louisiana Tech (26-3, 16-0 WAC, 50 RPI, 64 BPI, 64 KenPom) - The Bulldogs have been terrific in a pretty decent WAC (Denver and New Mexico State each have nineteen wins).  To be undefeated in conference this late in the season is impressive. They also have a home win over Southern Miss. Their only bad loss was at McNeese State.   If they can win their last two conference games at Denver and at New Mexico State, plus make it to the WAC tournament finals, the NCAA Tournament committee will be hard pressed to turn away a thirty win team.  Hope it doesn't come to that and that the Bulldogs win the WAC. We'll see.

St Mary's (26-5, 14-2 WCC, 41 RPI, 35 BPI, 19 KenPom) - Another season where the Gaels have done almost everything but beat Gonzaga.  There were a couple of slip ups in non conference with losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech in the Anaheim Classic.  And yes, the Zags beat them twice in conference.  But St Mary's does have an impressive win over Creighton.  If I were Randy Bennett, I better hope my team makes the WCC Tournament final.  Anything less could make things interesting.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tigers Too Much For Gamecocks (Recap of Missouri v. South Carolina)

Thursday night was a chance for South Carolina to get another home win and put a crimp in another SEC's team's plans of making the NCAA Tournament. A week ago, the Gamecocks knocked off Ole Miss, damaging the Rebels chances of making the Big Dance. Now South Carolina was hosting Missouri, a team they barely lost to in Columbia, Missouri in their first matchup of the season.

Speaking of Columbia, Missouri, a lot of Tigers' fans made the 870 mile trip and Colonial Life Arena had a fair share of yellow sprinkled throughout the stands. As for Gamecocks fans, whether it was the 9:00 PM start or the team's 3-11 record going into the game, thirty minutes before game time, the arena was quite empty. It would fill up around game time for an attendance of over 9,300.

The Tigers came out roaring in the first few minutes. Keion Bell and Jabari Brown combined for eleven points and three assists and Missouri went out to a 13-5 lead not even four minutes into the game. This was not surprising for a team that is twentieth in the country in scoring, averaging 76.7 points per game.

The under sixteen minute media timeout came in handy for the Gamecocks as they regrouped out of the break. Mindaugas Kacinas and Brian Richardson each buried a three pointer and South Carolina had cut the lead to two, 13-11. After Missouri extended the lead back to five, Brenton Williams would score five straight points on a three pointer and a jumper to tie the game at seventeen.

The Tigers would respond with a 9-0 run over the next three minutes to go up 26-17. But the Gamecocks returned fire, with Damien Leonard burying three 3 pointers during a 15-6 spurt over a span of three and a half minutes. Bruce Ellington's jumper tied the game at thirty two with five and a half minutes. The Gamecocks had hit on seven three pointers in the first fourteen and a half of minutes of the game and yet were only tied with the Tigers.

Once again Missouri responded outscoring South Carolina 13-6 the rest of the half as Bell scored five more points. Bell would have eighteen first half points, nearly seven more than his scoring average on the season. The Tigers would enter halftime up 45-38.

At the start of the second half, it was clear the plan for Missouri was to go into Alex Oriakhi inside, since South Carolina had no one big enough or athletic enough to cover him. The Tigers quickly went out on a 9-2 run over the first two and a half minutes. Brown's layup put Missouri up 54-40 with 17:30 left in the game. When Oriakhi hit on a three point play to put Missouri up 57-42, Oriakhi, Brown and Bell had combined for forty eight of the Tigers' fifty seven points.

During the first twenty minutes of the game, the Gamecocks were able to hang with the Tigers due in large part to their three point shooting. But in the first nine minutes of the second half, the Gamecocks missed on seven of their eight three point attempts. Meanwhile, the Tigers continued their offensive onslaught. Missouri, led by Oriakhi's dominance inside the paint, extended their run to 31-13 over eleven plus minutes. Tony Criswell's layup with a little under eleven minutes left in the game put the Tigers up 76-51.

By this time, a good number of South Carolina fans had made their way to the exits, much to the pleasure of the Missouri fans sitting behind me in Section 113. The only brief glimpse of hope was when Brian Richardson scored four straight points for the Gamecocks. This resulted in Mike Anderson calling timeout, furious in his team's brief defensive lapses.

South Carolina was only able to briefly cut the Missouri lead down to nineteen, 79-60 with 7:42 left. But the Tigers got the lead back up to twenty four, 87-63 on a Lawrence Bowers dunk with three and a half minutes left in the game. Around this time, the mass exodus of fans had begun.

With two and a half minutes left in the game, as I surveyed the arena, it looked exactly as it was thirty minutes before the start of the game. I stayed till the bitter end as Missouri downed South Carolina 90-68.

The Tigers relentless efficient offense shot seventy two percent in the second half and nearly seventy percent for the game (69.6%). They only attempted nine three pointers, but hit six of them. Missouri took ten less shots than South Carolina but hit on eight more shots than the Gamecocks. The Tigers were even efficient from the line, hitting twenty of twenty six shots.

Bell led all scorers with twenty four points, while Brown had twenty three points and Oriahki added eighteen. The three combined to shoot twenty two of twenty eight from the field and eighteen of twenty three from the free throw line. I can't remember the last time I saw three players combined be so dominant yet so efficient in their scoring.  Paul Pressey was scoreless but more importantly had nine assists. The Tigers are now 20-8 overall and 9-6 in the SEC.  That should probably be enough to at least get an at large bid.

South Carolina was led by Leonard, who had a career high twenty points coming off the bench. Richardson and Williams also came off the bench to score ten points each for the Gamecocks. Michael Carrera was the leading scorer for the starters with nine points.   The bench outscored the starters 49-19. After Coach Martin comparing his team's play against LSU to the zombies in "Night of the Living Dead", I wondered if he had any comment in the post game press conference on this night's potential zombie sequel.

I left Colonial Life Arena and made my way to the parking lot next to the construction for the new Moore Business School building.  It was apparent as I crossed Lincoln Street that most fans had already left. I was able to quickly get out of the parking lot and head back to Gervais Street for the trip home.

As I waited for the light to change on Park and Gervais Street, I was wondering why I was so bothered about not having to be stuck in traffic. Then I realized, I much rather wanted to see the Gamecocks win and battle cars out of the school parking lot then have a quick getaway. With only one home game left in the season, here's to hoping Coach Martin turning it around next season.

I actually look forward to regular traffic jams after Gamecocks' basketball games.