Thursday, March 19, 2009

And the WInner Is ... ?

Hey all,

It's tourney time! You've made your pre-tourney picks, now it's time to take it a step farther: Who will win the whole thing?

You've had two days to look at the brackets (with only a day and a half left!), so send it in, Jerome! (That's a Bill Raftery reference, for all you hockey fans out there.)

My pick: North Carolina. I know, way out on a limb there, huh? My Final Four: No. 1 seed N.C., No. 1 Louisville, No. 2 Memphis, and No. 3 Villanova. I'd really like to pick Gonzaga to upset N.C. to make the Elite Eight, but the Tar Heels have so many future NBAers they could beat the Sixers many nights.

And I was sooooo close to picking Wake, Phil: Louisville-Wake is going to be a great game. — John

Who will win it all? AIG. They clearly have nerves (and perhaps other body parts) of steel over there on that squad.

My revised Final Four are: Pitt, Louisville, Memphis, UNC. Eventual champion: Pitt, beating Memphis in the final.

Biased? Of course. Realistic: as long as past performance is no indication of future results, I believe so. This may be the only time in my lifetime where I get to put Pitt on the final line and have it be more than just a theoretical possibility.

Thanks for the “Send it in Jerome” quip John… brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it. (Now if we could only get Raftery to stop doing his annoying little “Team x comes out…man-to-man!” thing. I think he’s OK as a commentator, but should have shoes thrown at him when he does that.) — Kurt

Ok, I crunched the numbers (threw the dart at the brackets), hit Chattanooga to win it all, rethought my process, and decided to be a lemming - let's go!!!

Final Four: (drum roll please as everyone waits with baited breath—by the way, what is baited breath? Is that some kind of fishing reference? Does it smell fishy? What if you don't like fish, can you wait with pizza breath?)

Louisville ... Memphis ... Pittsburgh ... North Carolina.

National Champion: (shock of all shocks) North Carolina,

I'd be happy to share my Elite Eight, Sweet Sixteen, even the thrifty thirty-two's, but I don't think anyone would find inspiration in my picks. I'm looking forward to watching the games. Gotta love this time of year, if only for MARCH MADNESS.

As an aside, I heard from "a source" that Troy Vincent, having come in second in votes for the the Players’ Union’s executive director position, would be willing to accept a leadership role with the players union, if asked…..All you have to do is ask ... call, write, text ... just get it out there. — Troy V. of Yardley


Final Four: Louisville, Memphis, Pitt and Syracuse.

Rematch of the Big East Final with Louisville and Syracuse, except this time Syracuse cuts down the nets.

However, I want the right to change my prediction if Eric Devendorf gets in another fight with a girl on campus and feels the need to punch her in the face. If he does this, they may hold him out of a practice or team meeting. — Dave

The question I asked myself was: Which is worse, picking Wake to go to the Final Four and they don't, or not picking them to go to the Final Four and they do?

I don't think I could forgive myself if they made the Final Four and I didn't pick 'em that far, ergo: Wake losing to Pitt, with the Grubby Tar Holes defeating UConn in a mythical consolation game.

p.s. Chelsea's 4pts behind Manchester United in PL and onto FA Cup Semis. But y'all probably already knew that. — Phil

Wow, could we have a Wake (Phil)-Pitt (Kurt) national championship? Yes, we could. Talk about a test of friendship. John

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Tourney Upset Special

Looking for a first-round underdog to pick in this year’s NCAA Tournament? Go west!

No. 14 North Dakota State will play defending champ Kansas in the early game Friday in Minneapolis and the Bison are primed to pull off a tourney upset in their first-ever NCAA tourney. N.D. State, which just finished transitioning from D-II, also became the first team ever to reach the NCAA tourney in its initial year of eligibility.

The team’s senior stars—guards Ben Woodside and Mike Nelson and forward Brett Winkelman—have already posted upsets during their careers, beating 8th-ranked Marquette in the 2006-07 season, and 13th-ranked Wisconsin in 2005-06.

They also had close defeats to power-conference teams Kansas State and Texas Tech in past seasons and a 61-57 loss to Pac-10 champ USC this year, so a game against Big 12 regular-season champ Kansas shouldn’t be intimidating.

Woodside averages 23 points and 6.4 assists, while Winkelman averages 18.8 and 7.3 rebounds. Second-year coach Saul Phillips’ team is undersized, but dangerous from the outside. As a team, they hit 41% of their threes, with Woodside, who scored 60 points against Stephen F. Austin earlier this year, hitting at a 43.7% clip.

The Jayhawks, on the other hand, lost every starter from last year’s champs and don’t have a senior starter. In coach Bill Self’s five past NCAA tourneys, the Jayhawks have reached at least the Elite Eight three times. However, Kansas has twice lost first-round upsets in 2005 (Bucknell) and 2006 (Bradley).

Bucknell, Bradley, and now the Bison: sorry, Kansas, but it looks like an attack of the Killer Bs.

(This note isn't exactly Philly-based, but I'll get to that with more tourney picks and info in the days ahead.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Best of Temple Hoops

Temple joins La Salle and Villanova as the only Big Five schools to win what’s considered to be a national championship, though the Owls won their title after taking the 1938 NIT, a year before the NCAA Tournament began.

Harry Litwack and John Chaney both made the Hall of Fame as coaches and the Owls’ legendary players include perhaps the best backcourt in college history: Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear. Oddly, many of Temple’s stars didn’t transition well to the NBA; Lear, Bill Mlkvy, Bill “Pickles” Kennedy, Lynn Greer, Nate Blackwell, and Pepe Sanchez played in a combined 130 NBA games—less than two full seasons.

Another oddity: the Owls have more Elite Eight appearances in the NCAA tourney when they’re a double-digit seed than when they were a No. 1 or 2 seed. They’re 4-3 as a No. 1 or 2 with an ’88 Elite Eight showing, and 6-5 with Elite Eight trips in ’91 and ’01 when seeded 10th or lower.

The first team:
1. Bill Mlkvy (1949-52)
Amazingly, Mlkvy, the Owl Without a Vowel, led the nation in scoring (29.2 ppg.) and was second in rebounding (18.9 rpg.) and assists (7.0) in 1950-51 when he was a consensus All-American. Mlkvy scored 73 in one game and finished with 1,539 points and a current school-record 21.9 career scoring average.

2. Guy Rodgers (1955-58)
A star on Temple’s two Final Four teams (’56, ’58), Rodgers was a consensus All-American in ’58 and went on to become the most successful ex-Temple NBA star. He led the NBA in assists twice and finished second six times on the way to four NBA All-Star appearances.

3. Hal Lear (1953-56)
Lear finished a brilliant career as the MVP of the 1956 NCAA Tournament, taking Temple to a third-place finish. He finished with 1,472 career points and a 19.0 career scoring average, and teamed with Rodgers to become the best backcourt in Big Five history.

4. Mark Macon (1987-91)
The McDonald’s All-American didn’t disappoint, becoming the only four-time first-team all-Atlantic 10 pick in conference history. He led the Owls to a No. 1 ranking in the ’87-88 season and Elite Eight finishes in 1988 and ’91. Macon ended his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,609, still No. 1) and steals leader (281, now third).

5. Eddie Jones (1991-94)
Jones was the 1993-94 A-10 Player of the Year, which gives him the slightest edge over teammate Aaron McKie. He finished with 1,470 points in three seasons before becoming the 10th overall pick in the ’94 NBA draft. He and Rodgers are Temple’s only NBA All-Stars; Jones was a three-time selection.

The second team:
Aaron McKie (1991-94)
Mike Bloom (1936-38)
Dionte Christmas (2004-08)
Bill “Pickles” Kennedy (1957-60)
John Baum (1966-69)

The best team: 1955-56
Led by Guy Rodgers and Final Four MVP Hal Lear, the ’55-56 Owls finished 27-4 under Harry Litwack. The pair combined for 60 of the team’s 76 points in the 83-76 NCAA tourney semifinal loss to Iowa (Lear, 32; Rodgers, 28).

Other top teams:
1987-88: John Chaney’s nationally ranked No. 1 team, which finished 32-2 and in the NCAA’s Elite Eight, featured perhaps the Owls’ best all-around collection of talent, with Macon, Tim Perry, Howard Evans, Mike Vreeswyk, and Ramon Rivas.

1937-38: The Owls won the initial NIT—and de facto national championship since the NCAA Tournament started the next year—behind first-team All-American Mike Bloom and NIT MVP Don Shields.

1957-58: Litwack’s other Final Four team featured Rodgers, Kennedy and Jay Norman, and finished 27-3.

1986-87: Nate Blackwell, Perry, Evans, and Rivas finished 32-4, with a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA tourney.

1999-00: The 27-6 Owls finished the season ranked 5th nationally behind Quincy Wadley and Pepe Sanchez and were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tourney.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Final Fortune-tellers

March has arrived—with a blizzard to boot! It's also time to look to the court and let the madness begin. For this week's blog picks, I'm throwing down the gauntlet: make your picks for the Final Four. (In men's basketball, Handwerk, not Premier League semifinals!!!).

The winner gets bragging rights, and the ever-so-valuable extra chip the next time we play poker. — John

The 4 teams I like to go the farthest in the NCAA tournament are Oklahoma (my pick to win it all), Kansas (best coach in college hoops), UNC and Pitt. Not sure on the Final Four until the brackets come out since these teams may be placed in the same regions.

Sleepers are Butler and Washington.
Out early: Villanova, Xavier and every Big Ten team.

Great time of year. — Dave

Good idea making at least one sleeper pick. Something tells me it pains you too much to pick a certain Jesuit university to reach the Final Four. I'm talking Gonzaga—what, were you thinking St. Joe's???? — John

As Dave wrote… a tough task without knowing who’s going to end up in which region, but alas, my final 4 picks: UConn, Pitt, Oklahoma, Kansas.

Sleepers: Creighton, LSU

Slugs: Clemson, Missouri, Marquette—Kurt


Tough tasks—that's our business, gentlemen, and that's why a throng of 7 follow our deep thoughts (8 if we accidentally include Gray on an e-mail).

I'm going off the board for my first pick: Gonzaga, not as a sleeper pick, but one I think will make it and shouldn't be considered a sleeper anymore. Gonzaga is one of only nine schools to have reached each of the past nine NCAA Tournaments, and is the only school not from a major conference to do so. (Thank you, Wikipedia). The Zags have also been to three Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight since 1999—it's breakthrough time. Plus they have the talent to do it.

My other three picks: An ACC team (North Carolina), and two Big East teams (UConn and Louisville). My sleepers: Arizona and Xavier. The duds: All SEC teams (particularly Tennessee) and Duke (3 total wins in the last 3 NCAA tourneys). — John

My Final Four: UNC, Duke, Wake, Miami .... wait a second, you probably meant the NCAA tourney, right? My bad. I thought we were to pick the ACC Final Four. Sorry.

NCAA Final Four: UNC, UConn, Memphis, Oklahoma

Home by 3/23 (if not sooner): Duke, Mich St.

Wearing a glass slipper (makes it to Elite 8): Butler — Phil

Ouch, picking UNC over good ol' Wake—that had to hurt. — John

Final four what? How about Samuel Adams Lager, Blue Moon, Guinness, and Molson.

Sleepers: Riverhorse, Labatts

Might as well be water: Coors Light

Sorry guys, without the brackets I'm lost. — Troy V. of Yardley