Monday, March 22, 2010

This NCAA Tournament Truly Provides March Madness

So, I had this dream over the weekend. It was about college basketball, specifically about this year's NCAA Tournament. Crazy things happened. For example, the 12 seed in the East, Cornell, not only beat fifth-seeded Temple in the first round. The Big Red followed that up with a pounding of fourth-seeded Wisconsin.

After that, my dream showed the tenth-seeded St. Mary's Gaels pulling a stunner by upsetting second-seeded Villanova in the South regional.

But the kicker was, get this, that "mid-major" Northern Iowa stunned overall number one seed Kansas in the second round in Oklahoma City, not far from Jayhawk head man Bill Self's hometown. Not only did the Panthers pull the shocker, but they pretty much dominated the game from start to finish.

Funny thing is, I woke up this morning and realized that all of those things actually happened. It was a wild weekend for sure, with four of those so-called "mid-majors" still alive in the Big Dance. Butler survived yet another "mid-major", Murray State, to make it back to the Sweet 16.

Sure, some things about this tournament seemed perfectly logical. The top seed in the East, Kentucky, dominated East Tennessee State and Wake Forest. Syracuse did the same to Vermont and Gonzaga. And Duke rolled through its two games in Jacksonville.

This NCAA Tournament has truly been March Madness. When the action gets underway again on Thursday, who knows what might happen next.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

NCAA Tournament Seeding Raises Many Questions

First of all, I'll admit that I'm a Kentucky fan. With that being said, I do not understand what the NCAA Tournament committee did with their seeding for the 2010 "Big Dance".

Kentucky, the committee said, was the number two overall seed in the tournament, the number one seed in the East Regional. With that seed, the Wildcats should have had the seventh best team as the second seed in their regional. Let's say that team should have been Villanova. Instead, the committee placed the Big East Tournament champion, West Virginia, as the second seed in the East. The same West Virginia team that, according to CBS analysts Greg Anthony and Seth Davis, should have been a number one seed.

But the Wildcats may not even make it that far. If they beat East Tennessee State in the first round (which they should), they will likely face Texas. The same Texas Longhorn team that, at one point this season, was ranked number one in the nation. Granted, the Longhorns have fallen on tough times lately, but the number one seed having to face a former number one team in the second round? I can't remember that ever happening.

The committee also did Kentucky no favors by placing Wisconsin and Temple in the same bracket as UK. Both the Badgers and the Owls play a style that could cause Kentucky some problems. Kentucky definitely has more talent than either of those teams, but the style of play could take Kentucky out of their comfort zone.

For argument's sake, let's look at Duke. The Blue Devils shared the regular season title in a very weak ACC, then won the conference tournament title. As a reward for roaring through a tournament with no other ranked teams, the Blue Devils were rewarded with the number three overall seed. The second seed in their region is a Villanova team that has fallen on hard times. The three seed is Baylor, which hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game in 60 years. And the four seed is Purdue, whose best player is out for the season. Duke's toughest game could be a second round matchup against Louisville.

So again this year, the committee has slighted Kentucky. The Wildcats are 32-2, regular season champions of the SEC, and SEC Tournament champions. Their reward is the toughest region of the four. Here's hoping that John Calipari and his young team can navigate their way through, and get the Wildcats back to the Final Four for the first time since 1998.

Friday, March 12, 2010

This is Why It's Called March Madness

Upsets, near upsets and more have turned Championship Week, literally, into March Madness.

On Thursday, it was the Big East's regular season champion, Syracuse, losing in the Big East quarterfinals to Georgetown. Not a bad loss for the Orange, mind you, but still an upset. Jim Boeheim's team now will sweat a little more on Selection Sunday, hoping to hang on to a number one seed. The Orange have now lost two in a row after taking over the number one spot in the rankings.

Friday started with what looked like an upset-in-the-making, as Alabama raced to an 11-point lead against Kentucky in the SEC quarterfinals. However, the Wildcats got their act together in the second half and rallied for a six-point win. The game was a lot closer than most anticipated, and it proved that Kentucky's youth could be a factor this postseason. While the Wildcats have as much talent as any team in the country, much of that talent had never played in a college postseason game until Friday. It will be interesting to see how Kentucky reacts in Saturday's semifinal matchup against rival Tennessee.

Friday evening, it was top-ranked Kansas falling behind in the first half before putting together a second half rally to down Texas A&M in the Big 12 Touranment. The Jayhawks are widely believed to be the best team in the country, but after two lackluster efforts in the conference tournament so far, some are beginning to question Kansas' superiority.

That's one of the great things about college basketball. In conference tournaments, as well as the NCAA Tournament, it's one-and-done. It's not a seven-game series. And in those one-game scenarios, anything can happen. That's why it's called March Madness.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tiger's Return at Masters is a Stroke of Genius

There are reports from several media outlets today that Tiger Woods will return to the PGA Tour at one of his most successful stops, Augusta National, where he has won four green jackets.

This move makes quite a bit of sense. First, Woods has won at Augusta four times, although he hasn't won there since 2005 (perhaps due to the "Tiger-proofing" of the course).

Second, Woods has said throughout his career that his goal is to surpass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships. Sitting out a major, particularly one where he has had quite a bit of success, would make little sense.

More importantly, with the tough ticket at Augusta, even for the media, Woods will face only the credentialed media that the Augusta National allows into the venue for the storied event. This will prevent the invasion of tabloid media, who would want to talk about Tiger's sex life rather than his golf.

Woods is now working with former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who has become a sports "crisis management" expert since his days in Washington. The move to return at the Masters has Fleischer's name written all over it.

Woods has apologized for his alleged affairs, and now hopes to return to the world where he once was the king. It will be interesting to see how Woods is received upon his return. A man who was once beloved by most fans will most certainly face scrutiny upon his return to the tour. How he handles that will be another interesting facet of his return to competitve golf.

So prepare yourselves Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, etc. Tiger is coming back, and he's likely to be the Tiger of old.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SEC Coaches Get it (Almost) Right

The SEC announced its All-Conference teams on Tuesday, and, for the most part, the league's coaches got it right.

Kentucky's sensational freshman John Wall was named the SEC Player of the Year, while teammate and fellow freshman DeMarcus Cousins was the Freshman of the Year.

Wall and Cousins were joined on the first team by Wildcat teammate Patrick Patterson, Trey Thompkins of Georgia, Jarvis Varnado of Mississippi State, South Carolina's Devan Downey, Tennessee's Wayne Chism and Jermaine Beal of Vanderbilt.

Varnado, the NCAA's career blocked shots leader, was named the league's defensive player of the year.

Kentucky appeared primed to sweep the major awards, but the coaches gave the Coach of the Year Award to Vandy's Kevin Stallings rather than UK head man John Calipari.

Throughout the week, many have said that Calipari had the most talented team, therefore he shouldn't be awarded as Coach of the Year. My argument would be that recruiting is a HUGE part of college coaching, and since Calipari was able to bring in the nation's top recruiting class (and perhaps one of the best of all-time), shouldn't that count for something? Plus, Calipari was able to mesh his talented recruiting class with the existing players on the UK roster, and turn last year's NIT team into this year's SEC Champions, and perhaps a Final Four team.

Calipari also walked into a tough situation in Lexington, one created mostly by former coach Billy Gillispie. The Wildcats were a team in limbo, and Calipari brought the team together, and plugged in his talented recruting class en route to a 29-2 regular season mark.

Calipari also took a team that had played a grind-it-out style the last two seasons and made it a running team that was among the league's leaders in points scored. He implemented his dribble-drive motion offense, to a certain degree, to make this happen. But he also had to play to his team's strength, which was the post presence of Patterson and Cousins. He tweaked his offense enough to make this a formidable offensive team.

Sure, Calipari rubs many people the wrong way, and, in fact, many people don't like him. His brash style can, many times, make people mad. But even with that, the job that he's done at Kentucky this season certainly warrants AT LEAST the SEC Coach of the Year award.