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2013 NCAA Final Four Predictions

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For fans of college basketball, there’s no doubt that Saturday, April 6th will be a day to look forward to as the 2013 Final Four is set to take place in Atlanta, Georgia in the Georgia Dome.  (4) Michigan will be facing off against (3) Syracuse and (9) Wichita State will rumble with (1)Louisville. This is sure to be a must-see day in sports with three power programs and this year’s Cinderella team in Wichita State set to make their bid to play for a National Championship on Monday April 8th.

Over the weekend, these four teams laid it all out on the line as all of them had plenty to play for. So what did these games show us? If you must ask, it’s that defense wins Championships. Although this may be too bold a statement, we saw what a strong defensive performances can do for a team, especially during the Syracuse-Marquette and Louisville-Duke games. Whether it’s taking a team out of their rhythm or just completely de-moralizing them, there’s no doubt that defense will be key in the 2013 Final Four.

This coming Saturday, we’re going with two teams who seem to be playing the best defense right now. Not only can these teams amp up their intensity on the defensive end, they also have enough ammo on the offensive side to close games out. With that said, we’re picking Louisville and Syracuse to be the two teams fighting for a National Championship on Monday, April 8th. Both these squads showed tremendous poise in recent games and are riding the hottest hands of all these teams. Michigan and Wichita State are formidable teams themselves and have definitely earned their right to be playing in the final four. However, Michigan is too young and streaky while Wichita State is not quite there on the talent side of it all. These two will find out what a stifling defense can do to their teams and the brick wall they hit will be too strong to break through.

Stay tuned for our National Championship Picks. In the meantime, be sure to gear up with the latest in Final Four merchandise. See you there!

 

 

2013 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Preview and Predictions

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Thursday’s first-round matchups are:
#8 Boston College vs. #9 Georgia Tech, # N.C. State vs. #12 Virginia Tech, #7 Maryland vs, #10 Wake Forest and #6 Florida State vs. #11 Clemson. Receiving first-round byes are the top 4 seeds, #1 Miami, #2 Duke, #3 North Carolina and #4 Virginia.

Both BC and GaTech over-performed somewhat during the regular season, with finishes slightly above what was expected of them in pre-season. The only meeting between the two occurred just last Saturday in Chestnut Hill, with the Eagles escaping with a 74-72 win. Coach Steve Donahue has been slowly developing a competitive squad, dominated by sophomores and freshmen. 2nd-team All-ACC member Ryan Anderson leads the Eagles in both scoring and rebounding, while versatile freshman Olivier Hanlon (ACC Rookie of the Year) is a rising star. The Yellow Jackets, operating under second-year coach Brian Gregory, pulled off their biggest win a little over a week ago with a last-second upset over eventual regular season champion Miami. Like BC, the Jackets rely heavily on underclassmen, led by freshmen Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter. GT does have more experience than do the Eagles, with PG Mfon Udofia and C Daniel Miller, both senior starters. In this matchup, we’re guessing that BC’s patient and disciplined attack will give them a slight advantage, at least enough to advance to a Friday matchup with Miami.

The preseason pick to be the ACC’s top team, the Wolfpack of N.C. State instead were maddeningly inconsistent, and a late-season injury to PG Lorenzo Brown probably cost them at least one win, perhaps two. The ‘Pack’s starting five is as talented as any quintet in the country, with limited depth however, meaning foul trouble is always a concern for coach Mark Gottfried. Burly Richard Howell led the conference in rebounding, while senior sharpshooter Scott Wood is a threat from anywhere past mid-court. For the Hokies, about all they have to hang their hat on is Conference Player of the Year Erick Green, the nation’s leading scorer at 25.4 ppg. Look for the ‘Pack to easily advance to play Virginia on Friday.

Appearing in their final ACC Tournament before joining the Big Ten next season, Maryland will be looking to make a splash of an exit. Loaded with talent (albeit young) across the board, the Terps are led by Dez Wells and big man Alex Len. Coach Mark Turgeon has quickly made his imprint in College Park, and have handled their first-round opponent Wake Forest easily in two meetings already. The Deacons, just like BC and GaTech, are loaded with young talent, but it may take at least another year or two of seasoning. Expect the Terps to be playing on Friday versus Duke.

The final first-round contest features the Seminoles and the Tigers, and if this were a football game, would be in prime-time on ABC. However, this is the hardwood, and not quite the same. Clemson has slipped this season, and like the afore-mentioned BC, GaTech and Wake, is rebuilding with youth. Michael Snaer, the nation’s buzzer-beater deluxe, should help the ‘Noles extend their season at least for one more game.

Miami is still hopeful for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, but they’ve shown an alarming habit of overlooking lesser opponents this season. The video of their one-point squeaker of a victory over BC in mid-January will no doubt be featured prominently in coach Jim Larranaga’s pre-game preparations. After all they’ve accomplished this season, it’s difficult to imagine them shooting themselves in the proverbial foot at this stage.

One of those unexplainable letdowns that N.C. State has become known for this season happened at Virginia in late January, and expect Gottfried to remind them. Led by do-everything Joe Harris, the Cavaliers are much like Wisconsin; tough-as-nails defensively but hit-or-miss on offense. If the Wolfpack can slow down anything Virginia has to offer in the paint, look for them to make it to a Saturday afternoon rematch with Miami.

These two longtime rivals have staged some classics over a half-century. With this being the Terps “swan-song,” expect them to give the Blue Devils all they can handle. Ryan Kelly’s late-season return has reinvigorated Coach K’s squad, and Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry complete a dangerous and experienced triumvirate that is always on a mission in March. Duke advances.

Since Roy Williams switched to a smaller lineup at mid-season, the Tar Heels have been an offensive juggernaut. Going against Florida State however, presents several matchup problems, especially inside, where the Heels have virtually nothing. The ‘Noles size and athleticism will give Carolina problems, and if Hairston, Bullock and McAdoo aren’t shooting well, FSU could very well pull off the upset. Snaer does his thing, Heels lose.

A buzzer-beating lay-in by Reggie Johnson spoiled an apparent Wolfpack win back in early February, and the players mention that heartbreaking loss as the biggest disappointment of the year to date. State’s ability to score in a variety of ways will serve them well in the rematch, and how the defense deals with Shane Larkin is critical to advancing to Sunday’s final.

Florida State has quite often been a thorn in Coach K and Duke’s side over the years, and although the ‘Noles virtually live and die according to Snaer’s performance, games played in this setting have a tendency to unveil new heroes. If FSU is to have a fair shot at upending Duke, someone other than No. 21 will have to step up big-time, and even then it may not be enough. Duke advances to face the ‘Pack on Sunday in a highly anticipated college basketball showdown.

No ACC team has ever won four straight tournament games, although the ‘Pack has twice won three straight before collapsing in the finals. Despite their minimal depth and bouts of inconsistency, this might just be their year. Staying out of foul trouble is of utmost importance and not letting Seth Curry get open looks is another “must.” Going out on a shaky limb, here’s to the 2013 ACC Tournament champions (while knocking Duke out of a No. 1 seed), the N.C. State Wolfpack.

Session Game Time* Matchup# Television
First round – Thursday, March 14
1
1
Noon
#8 Boston College vs. #9 Georgia Tech
ESPNU/ACC Network
2
2:30 pm
#5 NC State vs. #12 Virginia Tech
ESPNU/ACC Network
2
3
7:00 pm
#7 Maryland vs. #10 Wake Forest
ESPNU/ACC Network
4
9:30 pm
#6 Florida State vs. #11 Clemson
ESPNU/ACC Network
Quarterfinals – Friday, March 15
3
5
Noon
#1 Miami vs. #8 Boston College/#9 Georgia Tech
ESPN2/ACC Network
6
2:30 pm
#4 Virginia vs. #5 NC State/#12 Virginia Tech
ESPN2/ACC Network
4
7
7:00 pm
#2 Duke vs. #7 Maryland/#10 Wake Forest
ESPN2/ACC Network
8
9:30 pm
#3 North Carolina vs. #6 Florida State/#11 Clemson
ESPN2/ACC Network
Semifinals – Saturday, March 16
5
9
1:00 pm
Winner of 5 vs. Winner of 6
ESPN/ACC Network
10
3:30 pm
Winner of 7 vs. Winner of 8
ESPN/ACC Network
Championship Game – Sunday, March 17
6
11
1:00 pm
Winner of 9 vs. Winner of 10
ESPN/ACC Network
*Game Times in ET. #-Rankings denote tournament seeding.

Schedule courtesy of Wikipedia

2013 Big 10 Men’s Basketball Tournament Preview and Predictions

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The 16th annual Big Ten Conference Tournament will tip off this Thursday, March 14 and the finals will be on Sunday, the 17th. All games will be held at Chicago’s United Center, which is hosting the event for the eighth time.

The #8 and #9 seeds, Minnesota and Illinois, tip off the tournament at 11:00 AM, with the winner advancing to face No. 1 seed Indiana at the same time on Friday. The Gophers and Fighting Illini split their two regular season meetings, with the visiting team winning both times. Minnesota shot a scorching 53% from the field in their 84-67 win on January 9 in Champaign, with Joe Coleman scoring a career-best 29 points. Illinois turned the tables in the rematch in Minneapolis on Feb. 10, aided by a blistering three-point barrage to edge past the Gophers, 57-53. Tyler Griffey came off the bench to pace Illinois with 16 points, while Austin Hollins (16) and Trevor Mbakwe (13) were the only Gophers in double figures. Illinois’ victory came just three days after they’d upset No. 1 Indiana at home.

Both teams are squarely on the at-large NCAA Tourney bubble, but Illinois probably needs a victory a little more urgently. For that reason, the pick here is the Illini in a nail-biter.

In Game 2, 5th-seeded Michigan takes on 12th-seed Penn State, with the winner drawing 4th-seed Wisconsin on Friday. The two teams also split regular season games, with Penn State’s upset over the Wolverines just two weeks ago one of the conference’s biggest shockers of the season. It’s “Big Boy” time now though, and Michigan has their goals set for a deep tournament run. With Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke, the Wolverines should make fast work of the Nittany Lions.

Game 3 matches up 7-seed Purdue and 10-seed Nebraska. The winner has the pleasure of facing the 2nd-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes. The Boilermakers won the only meeting between the two in mid-January, and should have little trouble this time. The Cornhuskers are not without talent however, and if their outside shooting is on the mark, could be competitive. It’s isn’t likely though.

The last game of Day One pits 6th-seeded Iowa versus 11th seed Northwestern, with the winner taking on 3rd-seeded Michigan State. The Hawkeyes swept the Wildcats in the regular season, and all indications point to a similar outcome on Thursday. The Wildcats however, still seeking that elusive first-ever NCAA Tournament bid, will be fired up and history teaches us that unless you’re the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals, it’s never easy to beat a team three times in a season. Go with the upset in this one.

Day Two tips off with a (projected) matchup between the Hoosiers and the Fighting Illini. Ever since Tyler Griffey’s last-second uncontested layup toppled Indiana in early February, Tom Crean’s squad has been itching for a chance at revenge. First-team all-conference performers Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo had sub-par games in the first meeting, and Crean will remind them of that frequently. The Illini just don’t have either the talent or depth to pull off another upset.

One of the better conference games of the season took place back in early February when Wisconsin edged Michigan in overtime, and this shapes up to be a similar contest. Bo Ryan’s (Big Ten Coach of the Year) Badgers are never a team you want to face in March, and a key could be how Trey Burke handles the Badger press. Wisconsin’s keys to victory will hinge (as always) on their ability to score, meaning they probably need a big game from Ben Brust. Look for the Wolverines to rally late and edge the Badgers.

Under Painter, the Boilermakers have always been ultra-scrappy, but scrappiness will only take you so far, and Ohio State simply has too much talent and versatility. PG Aaron Craft is the personification of “scrappy,” while Deshaun Thomas can provide a little of everything. Go with the Buckeyes in a romp.

Tom Izzo has shown time and again that he has this “March” thing down to a science, and he always has the Spartans ready during this time of the year. Michigan State has depth, experience, size and plenty of intangibles, traits which Northwestern lacks in abundance. One of these years Northwestern will punch their NCAA ticket, but not in 2012-13.

In Saturday’s semifinals, it’s shaping up to be Round 3 of Hoosiers-Wolverines and if the first two matchups were any indication, this one should be memorable. Indiana has edged out Michigan twice already, with the last one a final-second thriller. Remember what we said earlier about that “beating someone three times?” Well, it certainly is applicable here, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Wolverines exact some measure of revenge, while possibly knocking Indiana out of a No. 1 NCAA seeding.

Another two teams that split regular season games. Another two teams that really don’t like each other. Another two teams that have hopes of receiving a lofty NCAA seeding. Another two teams that are loaded with talent, experience and excellent coaching. The Ohio State-Michigan State semifinal should be a barnburner. The personnel matchups are as even as any two teams could possibly be, and this one could come down to which individual player brings his “A+” game. In a close one, Izzo’s strategical genius should push the Spartans into the finals against Michigan.

The Wolverines, no doubt, are still stinging from a 23-point shellacking in Lansing back on February 12th, and will come into this game breathing fire. Izzo and the Spartans have faced fire-breathers before and will not go down easily. One of the crucial matchups could be MSU’s freshman sensation Gary Harris and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. Also critical will be how effectively Wolverine freshman big man Mitch McGary fares against Izzo’s interior heavyweights, Payne and Nix. The pick here is Michigan, but by no more than a basket or two.

Here is the schedule for the upcoming Big 10 college basketball tournament March 14-17 (courtesy of bigten.org):

Thursday, March 14, 2013
Game 1: No. 8 vs. No. 9, 11 a.m., BTN
Game 2: No. 5 vs. No. 12, 1:30 p.m.*, BTN
Game 3: No. 7 vs. No. 10, 5:30 p.m., ESPN2
Game 4: No. 6 vs. No. 11, 8 p.m.*, ESPN2

Friday, March 15, 2013
Game 5: No. 1 vs. Game 1 Winner, 11 a.m., ESPN
Game 6: No. 4 vs. Game 2 Winner, 1:30 p.m.*, ESPN
Game 7: No. 2 vs. Game 3 Winner, 5:30 p.m., BTN
Game 8: No. 3 vs. Game 4 Winner, 8 p.m.*, BTN

Saturday, March 16, 2013
Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner, 12:40 p.m., CBS Sports
Game 10: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 3 p.m.*, CBS Sports

Sunday, March 17, 2013
Championship Game, 2:30 p.m., CBS Sports

All times CT

Five Strongest NCAA Men’s basketball conferences in 2013

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As the calendar turns to March and the accompanying Madness is just around the corner, the 2012-13 college basketball season is beginning to develop several patterns that will factor greatly into the upcoming tournament.

Perhaps the biggest surprise at this late stage of the season is the most recent RPI rankings which places the largely unheralded Mountain West Conference barely ahead of the Big Ten Conference in the conference rankings. The Mountain West currently has five schools (Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV) ranked among the top 47 schools nationally, with New Mexico leading the pack at No. 3. The Lobos, coached by former Indiana great Steve Alford, are ranked 12th in the most recent poll, and overall, the entire conference has six teams (out of nine total) with impressive records and resumes. New Mexico has victories over Connecticut and Cincinnati, while other conference schools have “good” wins over such schools as California, Colorado, Creighton, UCLA and Washington, with close losses to powerhouses such as Arizona, Syracuse, Michigan State and North Carolina.

The Big Ten has been the general consensus pick as the toughest conference overall, with Indiana and Michigan spending time at No. 1 and Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State being among the Top 25 rankings for most of the season. Illinois and Minnesota have also spent time in the polls. The conference is expected to place at least six schools in the NCAA Tournament, with perhaps one other making a case for entry depending on the outcome of the Big Ten tournament. Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State must also be included on the “short list” for reaching the Final Four in Atlanta on the April 6-8 weekend.

In what may prove to be the “last hurrah” for the once-mighty Big East, the conference has eight schools currently among the top 51 in RPI rankings, with Louisville heading the list at No. 8. With conference reshuffling straight ahead, the Big East will be taking on an almost unrecognizable look. For the current season, Louisville, Georgetown and Syracuse appear to be the conference’s best bets to make a deep run in the NCAAs, but if history has taught us anything, the Big East Tournament has a way of upsetting the proverbial applecart.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has been the nation’s unquestioned basketball conference king over most of the past quarter-century, but the 2012-13 season has been a different story. With traditional power North Carolina going through a so-so season and preseason conference favorite N.C. State stumbling at times, its been the Duke Blue Devils who have been the ACC’s standard bearer this season. However, the Miami Hurricanes have been the surprise team nationwide, rising as high as No. 2 in the national polls and currently leading the conference standings. Miami and Duke’s upcoming showdown is being played at Duke’s Cameron Stadium, definitely to the Devils’ advantage. N.C. State possesses one of the nation’s best starting five, and could be a very dangerous team later in March. Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina are also fairly safe bets to make it into March Madness.

Another conference that’s undergone massive changes recently, the Big 12, places Kansas in fifth place in the most recent RPI rankings, but then drops all the way to Oklahoma in the 23rd slot. Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Iowa State all made the top 50, but this season’s Big 12, like the ACC, is experiencing a bit of a down year after nearly two decades of being among the nation’s best. The Jayhawks appear to be the sole conference team capable of making NCAA Tourney noise, but they have gone through several periods of inconsistency.

The PAC-12 has performed better than expected, but still are listed as only the sixth-strongest in the latest RPI rankings. Arizona, as predicted in preseason, is easily the most-respected conference team and UCLA appeared to be poised to rejoin their accustomed status among the nation’s elite, but inexperience and inconsistency have plagued them. If coach Ben Howland’s young players stick around for longer than a year, they could be one of the best in 2013-14. Oregon has been a pleasant surprise, while Colorado, California and Arizona State could work their way into the Big Dance with good showings in the conference tournament.

Rounding out the RPI’s top 10 conferences are the Atlantic 10, with newest member Butler, along with Saint Louis, LaSalle and Temple all having some “good” wins over power conference teams. Butler, continuing its late-season excellence under coach Brad Stevens, will have to do well in the conference tournament, but even if they stumble, early-season upsets over North Carolina and Indiana should provide them with a ticket to March Madness. The SEC, much like the ACC and Big 12, is either very, very good or very very ho-hum. Kentucky has some work to do before they can make their imprint, while Florida has been the conference’s most consistent team. After that, conference newcomer Missouri, surprising Mississippi and up-and-down Alabama appear to be the only SEC schools with reasonable NCAA aspirations. Only two Missouri Valley Conference schools, Creighton and Wichita State appear to be able to compete nationally. Creighton, with Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott, could become a fan favorite in late March and early April. Closing out the RPI’s top ten is the West Coast Conference, led by head coach Mark Few’s Gonzaga Bulldogs. The ‘Zags could be ranked No. 1 as soon as next week, but observers would be well-advised to not overlook WCC members Brigham Young and St. Mary’s either. Thanks to the ‘Zags and the Gaels, the WCC has greatly upgraded its national “footprint” over the past few seasons and looks to only become stronger in the near future.

Handicapping The Potential 16 Seeds In The 2013 NCAA Tournament

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A lot of talk is focused on who the number one seeds in the NCAA tournament will be. However, it is also interesting to take a look at who their opponents may be. No 16 seed has never won a game against a number one in the NCAA tournament. Will this be the year that it finally happens? Here are the likely 16 seeds and their projected spot in the field of 68.

Number 68: Southern

At 16-7, Southern is the only team from the Southwestern Athletic Conference to be over .500 at this point in the season. Therefore, it is easy to say that they are going to be the lowest seeded team in the bracket this year. Despite having a win against Texas A&M this season, it is unlikely that they will win their play-in game let alone defeat a number one seed in the first round.

Number 67: Charleston Southern

The Big South has not been much of a power conference this season. There are only four teams above .500 and Charleston Southern is leading their conference despite having only the fourth best record. They have zero wins of note this season and have defeated three teams from lower divisions. However, they did play Arizona tough earlier in the season. Therefore, they may have a shot at putting a scare into any number one seed that they play.

Number 66: Norfolk State

Last year, Norfolk State advanced to the round of 32 as a 15 seed. However, it looks like their road is going to be even tougher this season. If they survive their play-in game, they may not have the depth to compete against a major program. Although they are 9-0 in the Mid-Eastern Conference, their biggest win in non-conference play came against Rhode Island. Other than a 10 point loss to Illinois, they have not been competitive against many larger schools this season.

Number 65: Byrant

Byrant is a feel good story this season after winning only two games last year. At 15-6, they lead the Northeastern Conference by a game over Robert Morris. There biggest non-conference win is over Boston College. However, Bryant is still a team that is learning to win games against established programs. They were blown out of the water by Providence and Indiana to begin the season. It is unlikely that they will be the team to end the streak.

Number 64: Northeastern

The Huskies are taking advantage of the defection of VCU to the Atlantic 10 conference. Northeastern is 9-1 in conference play and should have no trouble locking up the number one seed in their conference tournament. They have no great wins to boast on their resume although they have defeated Princeton and Brown this season.

Number 63: Florida Gulf Coast

FGCU is currently in first place in the Atlantic Sun with an 8-3 conference record and a 16-8 record overall. They boast a huge win over Miami this season which should put them on the radar as a team that can do damage in the tournament. The Eagles were also able to defeat Toledo and hang close with St. John’s. It would not be a shock to see this team playing on the first Saturday or Sunday of the tournament.

When taking a thorough look at the possible 16 seeds this year, it looks like there may be one or two teams capable of creating the biggest upset in the history of the tournament. However, many of these teams could lose in their conference tournament or in their play-in games. The unpredictability surrounding March Madness is why everyone loves it so much.