Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
4/03/2008 01:42:00 AM
Day 23: Our Pool Nears Its End
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO -- I just combed through all of the possible Tourney Blog Pool scenarios, and am saddened to announce that there is no way a tuba player in the championship-team's band can win it all. Or any team's band, for that matter. Out of 5,490 completed brackets in our Facebook pool, there's an elite pack of 11 entrants who still have a shot at the title of Blog Pool Champ, and all of the fame and fortune that goes with it. (On top of the fame of being mentioned here, there will be some sort of non-monetary prize that I'll work out with the champ. It's possible that Sports Illustrated swag will be involved.)
Our Elite 11 have been contacted via Facebook to cough up information about themselves for a post later in the week. For now we'll just list the champs from the eight different title-game scenarios (with current point totals in parentheses), including a four-way tie if Memphis beats UNC:
If Kansas beats UCLA:Dan Dial of Southeast Missouri State (107) If Kansas beats Memphis:Karen Kraus of Mizzou (104)
If North Carolina beats UCLA:Frui Awasum of Hampton (107) If North Carolina beats Memphis:Taylor Dupre of Stetson (105)
If UCLA beats North Carolina:Ben Levine of the Moses Brown School in Providence (105) If UCLA beats Kansas:Michael Ferguson of UCF (107)
If Memphis beats North Carolina:Grant Catus of Nevada (Iowa) High (104), Cory Pitts of Hays (Kan.) High (104), Jon Sneed of Tennessee Tech (104), and Mitch Jackson of UConn If Memphis beats Kansas:Kenny San Antonio of Providence (104)
(Your blogger, if you still care, is tied for 1,305th. Ouch. All of the people above, I'm pretty sure, were on the four-number-ones-in San Antonio bandwagon, a scenario that our collaborator from Vegas Watch, Jacob Wheatley-Schaller, says had only a 4.8 percent chance of happening.)
• Catching up on the Tourney Blog Playlist, curated by the duo at Dallas-based blog Gorilla vs. Bear, one of whom refused to come to the Final Four because he "hates San Antonio":
Day 20's track was Writing On The Wall's Buffalo. Some '60s Scottish prog-rock, with the only real tie-in being that a Scottish man asked me for directions today at the Riverwalk. I was unable to help him.
Day 23's track is Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks' Baltimore. On my last night in New York before the Final Four, I saw their show at the Bowery Ballrooom ... and someone in the back shouted "Sean Singletary," hoping to get a rise of Malkmus, a University of Virginia grad. He acknowledged the yeller, but was not particularly amused, merely restating the Cavs star's last name -- "Singletary" -- and then moving on into a song. The mp3 above generated far more banter on stage, mostly about Omar Little from The Wire.
HOUSTON -- The blog went two-for-two in its Saturday Elite Eight picks ... without going out on a limb. Our number-cruncher at Vegas Watch says there's now a 48 percent chance that all No. 1 seeds will be headed to San Antonio, and our breakdowns below side with the other 52 percent ...
South Regional Final: No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 2 Texas
What you should care about:
• As tough as Memphis' non-conference schedule was this season -- with Oklahoma, UConn, USC, Georgetown, Gonzaga and Tennessee -- the Tigers have not faced a point guard like D.J. Augustin. His superb decision-making skills in the 'Horns' spread-out offense are the reason they have the lowest turnover percentage (14.2) of any team in the nation. As Memphis coach John Calipari said of Augustin on Saturday, "The ball is part of him and his hand. You're not taking the ball from him."
Our assistant coach's scouting report on Memphis (from Wednesday) discussed how much the Tigers are steal-obsessed: "They want the ball back so bad that they try to make steals [late in the shot clock] and get out of position. They feel like they can afford to gamble because they have shot blockers behind them. If you drive the ball, the key is to come to a jump stop, pump-fake, and if nothing is available, kick the ball back out and start over again." Augustin is sure-handed enough not to turn it over -- and savvy enough to make the right decisions in the paint. In his post-Katrina hometown of Houston, he should make the difference.
• Calipari would really like you to care about the crowd in Houston, which is heavily tinted with burnt orange. In his press conference after beating Michigan State, he said, "I'd just as soon play [Sunday's game] in Austin. Maybe if they give us a few thousand seats, maybe we can move the game there." Outside the Tigers' locker room, Calipari kept pounding home the we-may-be-a-No. 1-seed-but-we're-not-the-favorite angle by saying, "The pressure has shifted to [Texas] now. They're playing a home game." But as much as Reliant Stadium's crowd will be dominated by the UT contingent, I don't think the fans will have too big of an impact. The stands are sloped so gradually away from the raised court, rather than stacked on top if it like they would be in a normal college arena, and the ceiling is about 1,000 feet high. I was sitting in the second row and the noise never even came close to a deafening level on Friday. And as Tigers guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said, "It's not like the fans are out there making threes." Memphis won't get overwhelmed by the crowd, and will keep this one close.
The pick: Texas 81, Memphis 79. There has to be one non-No. 1 seed in the Final Four, right?
Midwest Regional Final: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 10 Davidson
What you should care about:
• What Stephen Curry did to Wisconsin's Michael Flowers on Friday night -- scoring 33 points, including 22 in the second half while the Badgers had only 21 -- was the Son of Dell's most stunning performance of the tournament thus far. Even LeBron James, who asked Davidson for tickets and sat behind the team bench, was amazed, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, "[Curry]'s a very, very, very, very, very good basketball player. I don't know if he's coming out in the [NBA] draft this year. When he does, he has a spot.'' Friday's explosion proved, pretty much, that Curry can't be contained by one defender alone. It takes an entire corps of guards to keep Curry from getting open looks in transition. Good thing Kansas goes five deep in the backcourt.
• Wildcats point guard Jason Richards has been having a transcendent tournament as well, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.8-to-1 and a 13-assist, zero-turnover game against Wisconsin on Friday. He's the guy who sets up most of Curry's threes, and how well he handles the harassment of KU's Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson -- perhaps the best quick-hands duo in the country -- will probably decide the game. As Robinson said on Saturday, "Richards runs the team. He gets a lot of assists. So you take him out, then half the job on Curry is done."
The pick: Kansas 74, Davidson 69. Curry gets 20 in a hurry ... but the Jayhawks get a few too many transition buckets to let the mega-upset become a reality.
• Tourney Blog Pool update:Our 5,490-bracket competition on Facebook is heated heading into the final day of the Elite Eight. John Cramer of the U.S. District Courts network (on Facebook) is alone in the lead with 96 points, all of his Final Four teams alive, and North Carolina beating Texas in the title game. After that, our top Kansas bracket belongs to Greg Small of Baltimore (who's in second with 95 points), our top Memphis bracket belongs to David Jordan of UCF (in third with 94 points), our top Texas bracket belongs to Jeremy Loomis-Norris (also in third) and our top UCLA bracket belongs to Adam Hill, an alum of Indiana.
As for your blogger, I managed to drop from 160th on Saturday morning to 1,208th on Sunday morning. Not picking Carolina in my original Four Four: not smart.
• The Tourney Blog Playlist, curated by the folks at Dallas-based music blog Gorilla vs. Bear, rolls on, in hopes of loading up your iPod with free mp3s over the course of the NCAA tournament. Day 19's track is Amanaz's Khala My Friend, a track from a limited re-issue of what the Gorilla folks call "'70s Zambian hard-psych." It's an ultra-mellow jam that we highly recommend, with one warning: it will definitely not get you pumped up for a basketball game.
Day 17: The First Walk-On Q&A, With Texas' Ian Mooney
Ian Mooney shoots a jumper in Texas' practice on Thursday at Reliant Stadium.
Jim Sigmon/University of Texas
The Blog's two-season series of player-and-coach (but mostly player) Q&As has featured such luminaries as Roy Hibbert and Rick Majerus, but we've never before interviewed a walk-on. That changed today, as the subject is Texas senior forward Ian Mooney, who shares a name with the former host of WWF's Wrestling Spotlight and, unlike most walk-ons, had three double-digit-minute games this season, averaging 0.3 points on the season. Mooney wears the No. 22 in honor of his late brother, Brendan, and transferred from St. Louis to Texas after one year as a walk-on with the Billikens. Longhorns point guard D.J. Augustin says Mooney "sets the best screens" on the team, and strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright warns onlookers not to dismiss Mooney as unathletic because of his stocky Irish frame. "He might look like he's been drinking for three days, or that he just fell off the potato truck," Wright says of Mooney, "but he can really jump. Seriously, he'll throw down dunks."
We caught up with Mooney in the 'Horns' locker room before their Friday practice:
Luke Winn: You went from being a walk-on as a sophomore, to a scholarship guy last season [when a gap was left by Daniel Gibson leaving early], back to being a walk-on. That's an interesting back-and-forth.
Ian Mooney: I just take what comes my way. I had a scholarship fall in my lap, and now I'm back to just doing what I do, walking on.
LW: Did you earn the full ride last year by harassing Kevin Durant in practice? [Coach Rick Barnes had said that Mooney guarded Durant "better than anyone."]
IM: I think they kind of had some extra [scholarships] lying around last year, but I'm fine with the Durant angle.
LW: And you've already graduated?
IM: I graduated this past summer in corporate communications. It's like communication studies in corporate situations -- doing sales presentations, things like that. And I'm in grad school now, for advertising, which is pretty tough. That's fine, though -- I'd rather do advertising than be taking basket weaving or doing the Leinart plan.
LW: What's the University of Texas equivalent of a ballroom-dancing class?
IM: I took a semester of piano once, and that was my fine-arts credit. I don't know if that was as bad [as ballroom dancing], but our homework was singing in class and practicing our stuff.
LW: You've seen some serious time in a few games this year [against TCU and St. Mary's in January]. How did that come about?
I think coach [Rick Barnes] just kind of got frustrated with some of the guys, and gave me a shot. We were playing against TCU and they had undersized big men, and our guys were having trouble with it. Coach gave me a shot, I did well, and found a couple more minutes the next game, which was cool.
[Note: In order to conduct this interview, Mooney took a break from playing a white-board game with teammates Matt Hill and Damion James that was essentially Pictionary for movie titles. Mooney is the one drawing in the photo below.]
Where did you come up with that game? And which movies did you draw?
IM: I brought it over from high school [at St. Michael's in Austin], but it just started today because we've been bored like crazy. We just needed to pass the time. I did Courage Under Fire -- you see, the lion without the heart from Wizard of Oz, and then the fire? It's supposed be be flip-flopped, but it's there. Then I did Camelot, drawing camels in a parking lot. [He also did Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, with a pot of honey and some small stick figures, and Hill drew Next Friday by using a calendar.]
IM: We first got it started with Guitar Hero. One of the managers brought it in, and then we convinced him to get another guitar -- and then we made him keep the guitars in the lounge, because we were playing it so much. Then Rock Band came along and the next thing you know, we had a band. D.J. is good at drums, because he played in middle school, and Clint [Chapman] is probably the best at guitar. Justin [Mason] is on the mic. He sings the classic rock. Very adequately.
LW: D.J. is pretty well-covered in the press. What doesn't get out there about him?
IM: He jokes a lot, but he knows how to turn it on and off. One second he'll make fun of you, and then be like, "Hi, Mrs. Mooney!" [to your parents]. I don't know how creatively funny he is, but he's very good at either reiterating what you say and making fun of it, or changing what you say. That and calling you out. Anytime you get a new haircut, he'll be the first one to say it's ugly. Or if you show up wearing, like a polo shirt, and look pretty preppy, he'll call you out.
LW: Who pulls most of the pranks?
IM: Well, D.J. just threw a cup of water in Dex's [Dexter Pittman's] face right before film yesterday. And Harrison likes to hide under the table [pointing to a locker-room table with a tablecloth that hangs down to the floor] and grab people's legs as they walk by. Beyond that ... there aren't a ton.
LW: Since you're always guarding them in practice, what has it been like to see Connor Atchley and Damion James kind of blossom into big-time players this year?
IM: The main thing that happened with Connor is, he realized that he had to do it, first of all -- that the team had to have him come a long way and be good this year. Once he started gaining confidence, the players started giving him the confidence back, and he realized that he always had the skill set. That's why he got recruited. Once he figured out that he didn't necessarily have to be huge, strength-wise, to play well, he did it.
For Damion, I just think he fits more comfortably this year. Last season coach had him running the three or four every other game, and now he's kind of locked up in the four at the beginning of every game, and transitioning out of it. The game isn't as fast for him anymore, and he understands it better. That, and for a lot of these guys, there's a lot less frustration in their second year on defense. Coach would always ride us about our defense last year, and now that we have a solid team foundation on defense, no one is as frustrated, and you can focus on other aspects of your game.
LW: Being the only grad student, are you like a grandfather figure on the team sometimes?
IM: Sometimes I am the elder, I get up on my hickory stump every once in a while, and do my rants and raves. But I'm also the go-to-guy, like the encyclopedia when the guys need random information. We'll be on the road and they'll be like, 'Mooney, what's over there? Or, what's the capital of Denver?'
[While Mooney is laughing about accidentally saying 'The capital of Denver,' teammate J.D. Lewis chimes in with a story about abusing their sage status to trick Pittman into believing that the Hollywood sign was in New York. While playing in New Jersey for the Legends Classic, they told him he had just missed the sign from the bus, and Pittman said, "I see it! I see it!"]
LW: You've been to more NCAA tournaments than anyone in here. Does the experience change every time?
IM: This will be my third, and every time it's different because as you get older, you better understand what's at stake. Now, every game could technically be my last game ever. It's weird to think about that.
[Lewis interjects to say, "No way, dude. There's the YMCA."]
IM: Yeah, there is the YMCA. I have one year of school left, and I'm from Austin, so I'll be staying there and chilling. And dominating the rec leagues.
LW: You won't have coach Barnes riding you in rec-league games. What are his rants like this year?
IM: He goes on kicks where he'll try to be funny, to call out guys in the middle of film with some kind of punchline. He'll pause the tape sometimes and just be like, "Wow, Mooney, you're really athletic." Or the other day in practice, he was talking about something [negative] and just said, "That would be like Mooney running the point." He'll be acting really serious, and then drop in a jab, and you'll be like, "Is that a joke? What's going on here, coach?"
LW: What would it be like, if you actually ran the point?
D-Shirted Chris Douglas-Roberts, 6-7 guard, Jr., Memphis Classification: Sleeve removal Spotted: March 23 vs. Mississippi State Notes: CDR's trademark was a baggy tee -- until he switched to a smaller one midway through '08, and then ditched it altogether in time for the NCAA tournament, claiming not to be the least bit superstitious.
NCAA Flair Every tournament team Classification: Blue jersey patch Spotted: Omaha, Little Rock, Raleigh ... Notes: The NCAA mandated that all teams in the tournament wear the same jersey badge on their left shoulder, and for UCLA, at least, it matches. For a team like Michigan State or Wazzu, not so much.
Three Shades of Pearl Bruce Pearl, coach, Tennessee Classification: Sartorial diversity Spotted: Over the course of '06-08 Notes: First the orange blazer (right), then the shirtless stunt for a Lady Vols game (left), then this spacesuit/warmup for a recent speech. Pearl has the market cornered on coaching outlandishness.
Perma-tears Tyler Smith, 6-7 forward, Soph., Tennessee Classification: Facial tattoo Spotted: Entire '07-08 season Notes: Smith had these tears tattooed in memory of his late father, Billy, who passed away from lung cancer in September. Billy's illness was the reason Smith left Iowa in '07 and transferred closer to home.
Hair-on-Gody Luke Harangody, 6-8 forward, Soph., Notre Dame Classification: Various-sized buzz-cuts Spotted: March 2 vs. Depaul; March 20 vs. Winthrop Notes: 'Gody's iconic 'do, which was passed down from his father, Dave, is characterized by the fact that it sticks straight out of his head in all directions. The family simply refers to it as "Harangody Hair."
• Tourney Blog Pool Update:A few more leaders have been checking in via our Facebook profile, including University of Texas freshman Dustin Replogle, who sits third out of 5,490 ... and not surprisingly, has the 'Horns winning it all. Also on the first page of the leaderboard, our top Memphis bracket belongs to Kellen Freeman of Ivy Tech (in Indiana) and our top two Carolina brackets belong to Haley Carney of IUPUI and John Cramer of the U.S. Federal Courts network. Congrats to all.
• The tourney playlist, curated by the folks at Gorilla vs. Bear, rolls on with two new mp3s for your iPod: Day 15's track is Cold Son Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, whom I'm hoping to see in New York before heading to the Final Four ... and Day 16's track is Caribou's Melody Day.
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Under different circumstances I'd be depressed if my Easter brunch consisted of fruit and yogurt in the Memphis airport. But this is the reality of life on the road during the NCAA tournament: If you want to try to catch two games on Sunday in Little Rock after covering two on Saturday in Omaha, you're going to have to sacrifice a few luxuries. I made it to Alltel Arena with about an hour and a half to spare before the tip of Texas-Miami -- more than enough time to take pictures of the gym, a program vendor, and a guy in a cowboy hat ... as well as check on the status of the Tourney Blog Pool.
• On the pool front, heading into Sunday we had a six-way tie for first (at 42 points) between readers Mick Crum, Sam Cichanowicz, Jeff Coverdale, Jay Tatum, Michael Edwards and Kellen Freeman all have a pool-leading 42 points. More importantly, my mother (who entered the pool without even letting me know) is tied for 17th out of 5,490 brackets. Which means I can now insult 5,455 of the bracketeers by saying that my mom knows more about basketball than they do. (Your blogger, meanwhile, is tied for a semi-respectable 213th.)
• The Tourney Playlist (curated by the folks at Gorilla vs. Bear) rolls on, one free mp3 at a time: Day 12's track is Panda Bear's Comfy in Nautica, an indie hymn apropos of the holiday.
OMAHA, Neb. -- Former UNLV star Larry Johnson and KU football coach Mark Mangino don't actually endorse this blog, but I did track them down, paparazzo-style, inside the Qwest Center on Thursday. (By first-round NCAA site standards, they are both considered big celebrities.) Our third annual readers' pool had 8,152 entrants as of Friday morning -- almost enough to fill up half of the Qwest Center. Fifty-six of the poolsters had perfect brackets on Day 1 of the dance. The SI Bracket Challenge Application lists Jason Koropatkin of Hartford, Conn., as the top dog of that group, even though, to the best of my knowledge, his perfect bracket was no more perfect than the other 55. (I did not fare as well, going only 13-of-16 and ranking 1,685th. "Expert," indeed.)
If you're near the top and think you have a chance of winning this thing, be sure to friend the blog on Facebook so we can track you down.
• For those of you who have been following the Tourney Playlist (curated by the folks at Gorilla vs. Bear): Day 10's track is Destroyer's Foam Hands, which is not about fan gear, but nonetheless is a quality tune.
Eric Maynor and VCU celebrate their 2007 NCAA tournament upset of Duke.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
OMAHA, Neb. -- It was 2:15 a.m. when I finally found VCU's hotel, which technically made it the morning after the first day of the 2007 NCAA tournament. As a No. 11 seed with an equally low ranking on the NCAA's lodging-placement chain, the Rams had been stashed out near the Buffalo airport, at the Millennium in Cheektowaga, N.Y. Outside it was a bitterly cold March night; inside, some energized debauchery was just starting to wind down. Ravaged pizza boxes were scattered about a ledge in the lobby, and a pack of VCU fans were in the process of loudly closing down the hotel bar. As I eyed this scene, then VCU director of basketball operations (and former Florida star) Brett Nelson emerged from a separate hallway to greet me. He had not come from the bar, but rather the coaches' suite upstairs, where serious preparations were underway.
Earlier that night, the Rams had pulled off one of those first-round upsets that often define an NCAA tournament as much as the title team. As a writer, I tend to treat my mere attendance at such events like badges of honor. Seeing Wisconsin-Green Bay stun Cal (in 1994), Vermont shock Syracuse (in 2005) and VCU upset Duke (in '07) created more lasting images for me than being at the past three Final Fours. And for a player such as the Rams' Eric Maynor -- who, with a simple wave of his hand, convinced his coach, Anthony Grant, that there was no need for a timeout to set up the final play; and then raced up the floor to drill a jumper in the face of Blue Devils sophomore Jon Scheyer -- that performance may define his career. With that shot, Maynor went from an unknown to a household name. He was the point man for the tournament's biggest upset.
I was pulling double-duty in Buffalo, writing for SI.com but also reporting for a possible magazine story on VCU, in the event it also upset Pitt to reach the Sweet 16. That's why Grant was willing to let me in on the Rams' first scouting session on the Panthers, which was being held in room 250 of the Millennium, a large, open space with one bed, a couch, a pair of TVs and a laptop video-editing operation. The main table, away from the TVs, contained the aftermath of a fast-food feast: empty Big Mac boxes and half-eaten pizzas. On the floor nearby were cases of soda and Red Bull.
Grant and his staff -- Nelson, and assistants John Brannen, Tony Pujol and Allen Edwards -- were running on the adrenaline of the win as well as mega-doses of caffeine. Video coordinator James Kane, the man who was busily chopping up edits of Pitt tape, drank more Red Bulls than I believed to be humanly possible (or advisable by the FDA). It was the equivalent of a late-night cram session for an exam, only the stakes here were infinitely higher.
Grant and Pujol, who had done the lead scout on the Panthers, were on the couch, intently watching tape of Pitt's game against Louisville from the '07 Big East tournament, occasionally offering commentary. "Does Pitt even have a small lineup?" Grant asked at one point. "I mean, Sam Young [who's 6-foot-6] would be our center."
Yet they wondered if the Panthers, in order to counteract VCU's perimeter weapons, might stray away from using their giant front line of Aaron Gray, Levon Kendall and Young. "Every team, across the board, has gone small against us," Brannen said, bolstering his point by referencing Duke's decision to keep 7-footer Brian Zoubek on the pine all night. The silver lining for them, if Pitt did stay "big," was that Gray appeared to struggle to recover after hedging on picks. "See that? On the pick and roll, he doesn't get back. Our guys will be wide open," Pujol said.
The Rams' coaches, forced to make to do with a front line of no one over 6-foot-7, discussed how they'd stop Gray on defense. The personnel report's slide on Pitt's giant read, "NO DEEP TOUCHES." Pujol said they didn't "have any choice but to collapse" on him, but had to do it in different ways so the Panthers wouldn't exploit the double-teams.
Gray's size, in the end, was only part of what beat VCU in the second around. They took third-seeded Pitt to overtime before losing 84-79, with Young and clutch point guard Levance Fields making key shots in the extra period. It didn't discount the fact that VCU had, for a couple of days, captured the nation's hearts. The little team from Richmond had an overlooked star in Maynor, who had been raised as a Duke-hater in North Carolina but not recruited by the ACC. They had a physical symbol for their team commitment to winning in the NCAAs: an actual chain of golden carabiners, with each player's initials written on one link. They had a coach on the rise in Grant, who had been an assistant on Florida's championship team the previous year. For that moment, at least, they were the darlings of the dance.
I left that hotel room at 5 a.m. on Friday; the coaches said they stayed up for another half hour, and then rose again at 8 a.m. In a closed practice later that day, Grant didn't show the slightest sign of fatigue. I, on the other hand, looked completely exhausted, but in a good way. The best day of my sporting year -- opening day of the NCAA tournament -- had turned into the longest day of my working year. All in the name of chasing Cinderella.
As we begin this, the first day of this year's tourney, we can only hope to find at least one more VCU. Will it be Winthrop or George Mason? Cal State-Fullerton or Oral Roberts? If Thursday passes without yielding a new America's team, we will inevitably be left feeling as if something were missing from March Madness. In the first-round upset lies the true spirit of the dance.
Psycho T and other stars start working on that last checklist box on Thursday.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- This is the day it really begins. A 6 a.m. flight to Omaha (via Detroit) awaits, so this is the final hometown dispatch before I officially hit the road for the NCAA tournament. Mount St. Mary's emerged from the play-in game more than eight hours ago, and open practices will be held today for the Thursday-Saturday sites. Mostly these are just shoot-arounds and dunk-fests, since coaches aren't going to give their game plans away in public -- but I'm a little jaded at this point. The first time I went to the NCAAs, as a fan in 1994, I forced my dad to spend six hours in the stands at Weber State watching those things.
• If you do one thing today, join the Tourney Blog pool. We were up to 5,030 members as of last night -- a number that's completely stunning to me, since we had only 644 last year. Converting it to Facebook has really paid off ... even if there has been some grumbling amongst the old folks. (Once you're signed up for the SI Bracket Challenge application on Facebook, there should be an invitation to join the Blog Pool on the home page.)
• To leave you with some decent reading in the meantime, I compiled "The 2007-08 SI Library": a compilation of links to all the college hoops feature stories that have appeared in the magazine this season. Below, sandwiched between images of the regional covers for our tourney issue and the regional covers for our preview issue, is some excellent work. Study up until I check back in later on Wednesday.
Day 7: Playing Your Way In ... To The Style Archive
The college basketball world turns its eyes to Dayton tonight, mostly to find out which of the teams on the pool sheet's horribly abbreviated 16 line -- you know, the one that reads "Mt. St. Mary/Cop. St." -- gets to be slaughtered by North Carolina on Friday.
I'm less interested in who wins than I am in finding out if Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell can compare UD Arena to some type of war zone. After his 16-20 team -- which had lost 17-of-18 at one point -- upset Morgan State in a nailbiter to win the MEAC title Saturday, Mitchell said, "We were life and death. Last night [in the semifinal] we were in Afghanistan, and today we're in Iraq. We were in a battle. That's all we knew. So when we got out of there alive, we were happy."
The Lanyard Look Coppin State Eagles Classification: Jersey decoration Spotted: March 15 vs. Morgan State Notes:Julian Conyers and the Eagles are the first 20-loss team to ever make the NCAA tournament -- and they'll likely be the only ones there this year who appear to have CSU lanyards sewn onto their necklines.
Downward-Facing Bulldog A.J. Graves, 6-1 guard, Sr., Butler Classification: Celebration cartwheel Spotted: March 11, after Horizon League title game Notes: Switz City's finest busted a move in honor of the Bulldogs' automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. We doubt Butler was doing flips over the No. 7 seed it got from the selection committee, though.
Jazz-Hands-In-Your-Face D D.J. Augustin, 5-11 guard, Soph., Texas Classification: Creative defensive position Spotted: March 15 in the Big 12 tourney Notes: Augustin tried to fluster Oklahoma's Tyler Griffin with this move in the Big 12 semis -- and at the very least, made him close his eyes. The 'Horns won the game, too, but fell to Kansas on Sunday.
Psycho-Spastic Shuffle Tyler Hansbrough, 6-9 forward, Jr., North Carolina Classification: Celebration dance Spotted: March 15 in ACC semifinals Notes: Hansbrough had good reason to make this flailing display of emotion: He had just hit the game-winning shot, with 0.8 seconds left, to sink Virginia Tech out of both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
The Cactus Matt Bouldin, 6-5 guard, Soph., Gonzaga Classification: Large 'do Spotted: All season Notes: Bouldin, the Zags' leading scorer as they head into the NCAA tournament, is the only college hoopster who bears at least a mild resemblance to a member of Phish (that would be bassist Mike "Cactus" Gordon).
• Tourney Blog Pool Update: Can you believe this? We have 3,645 entrants -- almost a 500 percent increase from last year -- and it's only Tuesday morning. Thanks to all who have signed up so far. For those who haven't, click here to begin the process, and then find the invitation to the pool on the application's home page. Then go back and friend my SI profile on Facebook so we can contact you once you're in the lead.
• The tourney playlist, curated by the folks at the peerless music blog Gorilla vs. Bear, rolls on, one free mp3 at a time:
Day 7's track is the Cave Singers' Seeds of Night. Because we're seeing brackets in our sleep.
NEW YORK -- After a long night of bracketing -- and a few hours' sleep -- I woke to find 2,090 entrants in the third annual Tourney Blog pool. Considering we had 644 entrants last year, this is amazing. (If you haven't signed up yet, follow the instructions in the blog's right rail.)
1. North Carolina got the No. 1 overall seed in the bracket, but the only real advantage it received from the selection committee was geographical. (The Heels play the first weekend in Raleigh, the second weekend in Charlotte.) The East Region was the one we most struggled with picking in the SI bracket last night. Whereas I thought there were really only two reasonable Final Four options in the West (UCLA and Xavier), Midwest (Kansas and Wisconsin) and South (Memphis and Texas), there were three in the East: UNC, Tennessee and Louisville. Plus, the likely Notre Dame-Washington State showdown might be the best 4-5 matchup in the field.
2. We were considering labeling that Irish-Cougs tilt "Blizzard Conditions in Denver." Just look at those rosters.
3. In case you like your Cinderellas to be able to D up ... these are the top six double-digit seeds in adjusted defensive efficiency:
Of those teams, it should be noted: K-State, Davidson and St. Mary's have respectable offenses to match; Oral Roberts and Kentucky score enough points to get by; and Winthrop is downright atrocious in offensive efficiency, ranking 229th.
4. I'm leaving later this week for Omaha. I was worried it was going to be a dud site, with Kansas as a No. 1, Wisconsin as a No. 2, and six uninspiring teams slotted around them. Not so: the committee's shafting of the Badgers produced one of the bracket's best pods, with the O.J. Mayo-Bill Walker reunion game in the 6-11 matchup, and a vets-versus-phenoms duel between UW and either K-State or USC in the second round. Other than the 1 a.m. bar time, Omaha now looks great.
5. There was not a single time I looked at the bracket last night and said, "Man, I really wish Arizona State (or Virginia Tech or Ohio State or Illinois State) was in here." None of the excluded had much of a right to cry foul.
• The tourney playlist, curated by the folks at Gorilla vs. Bear, rolls on, one free mp3 at a time:
Day 6's track is Midlake's Roscoe. They hail from the home of the University of North Texas, which went 20-11 this season but failed to make the NCAAs or the NIT. At least they're making music in Denton. Download and enjoy.
If they beat Kansas today, A.J. Abrams and Texas have a solid case for a No. 1 seed.
Douglas Jones/Icon SMI
NEW YORK -- When I finally packed up from Madison Square Garden at around 2 a.m., the press room was nearly deserted and the house crew had already dismantled much of the court where Pittsburgh won its Big East tourney title a few hours earlier. 'Twas time to head home, get some rest and turn the focus to Bracket Day.
Here are 10 things I'm thinking on the morning of Section Sunday, with T-minus seven hours until the great unveiling:
1. This weekend has taken on an almost Biblical tone. Disaster struck in Atlanta during the SEC tournament, as an F2 tornado hit the Georgia Dome, sending debris falling from the ceiling, and forcing an already crazy SEC tournament to move to Georgia Tech, where it got even stranger. Intense storms hit Charlotte, the site of the ACC tournament, and rain fell onto the court at Bobcats Arena during the Duke-Clemson semifinal, causing a delay and forcing the remainder of the game to be played with towels lining the floor. All of it lent an eerie feeling to the final days of college hoops' regular season.
2. One would like to think that there will be basketball miracles to balance out the natural and man-made disasters. We've already seen one -- Blake Hoffarber's Laettner-esque shot to lift Minnesota over Indiana on Friday at the Big Ten tournament -- and there are two more miracles waiting to happen on Sunday. Those would be 16-18 Illinois upsetting Wisconsin to earn the Big Ten's automatic bid, and 15-16 Georgia knocking off Arkansas to win the SEC's automatic bid. (The Bulldogs, mind you, would have to win their third game in two days to do this -- they beat both Kentucky and Mississippi State on Saturday.)
3. Wisconsin deserves a No. 2 seed over Duke. The Badgers lost -- by a lot -- to the Blue Devils at Cameron in November, but the selection committee simply cannot deny a team that won the Big Ten regular season title and (most likely) the Big Ten tourney a top-two seed. Especially when stacked up against a Duke team that won neither its conference or nor its postseason tourney.
4. If Kansas wins the Big 12 tournament today, I don't think the Jayhawks are a lock for a No. 1 seed. Tennessee, which is No. 1 in the RPI and has non-conference wins over Memphis, Xavier, Gonzaga, West Virginia and Western Kentucky, would still deserve that fourth No. 1 over the Jayhawks, who played a pretty lackluster slate outside of the Big 12.
5. If Texas wins the Big 12 tournament, on the other hand, the Longhorns should get the fourth No. 1 over Tennessee. Not only did they blow out the Vols in head-to-head competition, but the 'Horns would also have more wins over top-50 RPI teams (12) than anyone else in the country. Beating Tennessee, UCLA and Kansas (twice) has to count for something, right?
6. A few facts on 14-20 Coppin State, the never-say-die story of this NCAA tournament: The Eagles did not win a single game between Nov. 24 and Jan. 14. They started 0-8 in the MEAC, and 2-19 overall. They then went 12-1 to finish the season, upsetting top-seeded Morgan State in the MEAC tourney title game. In a quote that will go down as one of the Great Uses Of War Metaphors, CSU coach Fang Mitchell said after the win, "We were life and death. Last night we were in Afghanistan, and today we're in Iraq. We were in a battle. That's all we knew. So when we got out of there alive, we were happy."
7. For a team with eight losses and no chance of getting any higher than a No. 4 seed, Clemson can look pretty dangerous at times. When the Tigers' perimeter players -- namely K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby -- get hot, they're capable of outscoring anyone. Even North Carolina.
8. I really wish I would have covered the SEC tournament rather than the Big East. All the drama has been in the A-T-L.
9. The selection committee has saved the final two spots in its bracket for Illinois and Georgia, should they win their way in at the 11th hour. I think the last two teams in the committee's "working" bracket are Villanova and Oregon. They should both be huge Wisconsin and Arkansas fans today.
10. If you're looking for a better way to play the national anthem at a major basketball game, consider hiring this guy: Mark "The Loveman" Pender. Initially I laughed when I saw Pender, the trumpeter from the Max Weinberg 7 on the Conan O'Brien Show, step onto the court before the Big East tourney's finale. What happened after that -- a goosebump-inducing instrumental Banner which many of the Garden's fans began signing along with, organically -- was impressive. Pitt's DeJuan Blair raised his hands up in the air near the end of the song, almost as if he was summoning its power. And it worked: He had 10 points and 10 boards in the title game. Both DeJaun and I would prefer to see trumpet-only anthems for the rest of the month.
• Important Pool Business: The Bracket Challenge images in the right-hand rail are your three-step instructions for joining the third annual Tourney Blog Pool, now on Facebook. Or you can just click here to begin the process, and then find the invitation to the pool on the application's home page. Join up now!
As of Sunday at 11:45 a.m., we have 566 members of the Blog Pool. One hundred and twenty five of those folks have been kind enough to friend my SI profile on Facebook; the rest -- as well as any new entrants -- are invited to do the same.
• The tourney playlist, curated by the folks at Gorilla vs. Bear, rolls on, one free mp3 at a time:
Day 5's track is Del the Funkee Homosapien's Bubble Pop. In honor, perhaps, of the fates of Arizona State and Virginia Tech later tonight. Download and enjoy.
NEW YORK -- Another morning post at the end of the night. It's easier to get sleep this way. The Pittsburgh Panthers have already left the building by now, and have most likely passed out from the exhaustion of winning three games in three days. Blogging three straight days of this Big East tournament, I would contend, is equally tiring. But I expect no sympathy.
These are the four things I care about most heading into Saturday:
1. If Pitt can knock off Georgetown tonight -- a scenario that seems entirely plausible -- the Panthers have a legitimate case for a No. 5 seed. They were considered an 8 or a 9 heading into this week, but they're making a push based on these facts:
• Momentum. Winning seven of its final eight regular-season games, with two of those victories coming over Louisville and Georgetown, would make Pitt look rather attractive in the eyes of the selection committee.
• The Negative Momentum of Current Fives. Vanderbilt (with its opening-round loss to Arkansas in the SEC tournament) and Indiana (which lost a stunner to Minnesota on Saturday) are slumping into the dance, and neither team has much of a non-conference resume. Whereas Pitt has a win over Duke.
• The Levance Fields Argument. The Panthers only have two bad losses on their resume -- at Cincinnati on Jan. 19 and against Rutgers on Jan. 26. Both of those happened while Fields was hurt. There's no doubt the selection committee will take this into consideration.
"When it hit, at first it sounded like people were stomping their feet all at once. Then it got so loud it sounded like a train running through the place -- and we realized it was something a lot worse than that. We got up from their media seats, and the players ran off the court. All of this insulation that had come down from the roof was flying everywhere, and it looked like feathers. [Blue Ribbon Yearbook editor] Chris Dortch told me he almost got hit by a falling washer."
3. There are still three weeks of this tourney business left, but I'm not sure if I'm going to get two better answers on my tape recorder than the ones from this locker-room interview with West Virginia's Joe Alexander on Thursday:
Reporter (not me): You grew up in China. What was that like? Alexander: There were a lot of Chinese people.
Different reporter (also not me), after making a statement about how it seems like the Mountaineers are peaking at the right time: Do you feel like you're peaking? Alexander, starting to answer, then realizing the potential other meaning of this, and breaking into laughter: "Ye-- Yeah." (The reporter, oblivious to this, nods.)
4. Darren Collison said earlier this week that "Luc [Richard Mbah a Moute] is the real reason" why UCLA pulled out miracle wins over Stanford and Cal to close the Pac-10 regular season. (The junior forward, who's viewed as somewhat of a glue guy, had double-doubles in both of those games.) Now, can the Bruins manage to win NCAA tournament games without him? Mbah a Moute was on crutches after injuring an ankle in the Bruins' Pac-10 tourney win over USC on Friday. I'm far less inclined to pick UCLA as my national champ if the Prince is even hobbled; he's far too valuable to their lockdown defense to not be missed.
• Pool business: See those images in the right-hand rail? Those are your three-step instructions for joining the third annual Tourney Blog Pool, now on Facebook. Or you can just click here to begin the process, and then find the invitation to the pool on the application's home page.
As of Saturday at 12:33 a.m., we have 400 members of the Blog Pool. Ninety-two of those folks have been kind enough to friend my SI profile on Facebook; the rest -- as well as any new entrants -- are invited to do the same. • The tourney playlist, curated by the folks at Gorilla vs. Bear, rolls on, one free mp3 at a time:
Day 4's track is Beach House's Gila. Relaxing shoegaze for the calm before the Sunday storm. Download and enjoy.
Day 3: The Battle For One-Seeds, And Another Facebook Pool Plea
NEW YORK -- It's technically now Day 3 of this marathon, since it's after 1 a.m. in the Madison Square Garden press room, and all that's left are the bloggers and folks with nowhere else to go. (Many of you will contend that those classifications are one and the same, but I'd like to believe I have some options in my home city.) This daily dispatch will usually come in the morn', but the alternative -- waking up 12 hours before Georgetown and West Virginia meet in the Big East semifinal to write -- is far less attractive.
From now until the brackets are announced Sunday, here are the five questions that I think matter most:
1. Memphis is winning the Conference USA tournament. That we know. But should one of the other currently projected No. 1 seeds -- UCLA, Tennessee or North Carolina -- not win its conference tourney, can Kansas jump up and steal the final top spot if it rolls through the Big 12? Especially if the Jayhawks avenge their loss to Texas, this seems like a reasonable scenario.
2. What will the selection committee do with Duke and UNC if the Blue Devils win the ACC tournament -- by beating the Heels in the process? Will they both get No. 2 seeds? Or will one be a 1 and another a 2? I'd be inclined to give Duke a No. 1, if it beats Carolina for a second time.
3. Can last year's runner-up, Ohio State, play its way into the bracket by beating Michigan State today? If that happens, the Buckeyes will have strung together three nice wins -- one over Purdue and two over the Spartans. The 0-4 run Ohio State went on directly before might still ruin its bubble hopes, though.
4. Will Kent State play nice and win the MAC tournament? The Golden Flashes are the last mid-major left with the capability of stealing an at-large bubble spot. KSU's 25-6 record and No. 26 RPI ranking puts it in pretty good shape; should the Flashes get to the finals of the MAC tourney and lose, say, to Western Michigan, they could take a spot away from a team like Arizona State.
5. How far can Pitt climb?Our resident bracketologist had the Panthers as a No. 7 seed on Monday, but Thursday's win over Louisville could boost them up to at least a No. 6. A dark-horse run to the Big East tourney title -- a completely plausible scenario, given how well Pitt is playing -- and it could be in the conversation for a No. 5. Remember: While the Panthers are just 23-9, they have a "hardship" argument with the selection committee. They can make a decent argument that they'd be more like a 26-6 team had point guard Levance Fields been healthy all season.
• And now for some very important blog business: the daily reminder about the third-annual Tourney Blog Pool. Join up now.
Day 2: Celebrating Long Days, And The Launch Of The Blog Pool
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- In his 1998 book March to Madness, John Feinstein wrote that "there is no day in college basketball longer than Friday at the ACC tournament" -- mainly because it sells out every year, and 95 percent of the fans stay for all four games, rather than just the one in which their team plays. Big East tournament ticket holders, judging from the scene yesterday at Madison Square Garden, are not nearly as hardy. The lure of the endless number of bad, Irish-themed watering holes within walking distance of the Garden is too strong for them, and thus they leave large portions of the arena vacant at any given time.
Today has a chance to be different. Whereas the ACC tournament's quarterfinals were once regarded as a holy holiday in college hoops, the conference is so top-loaded this year that everything before Sunday's final is somewhat insignificant. Which begs the question: Has Thursday at the Big East become the new Friday at the ACC? The stunning depth of the 16-team mega-league has created a quadruple-header in which every matchup is compelling: Georgetown-Villanova at noon, UConn-West Virginia at 2 p.m., Louisville-Pitt at 7 p.m. and Notre Dame-Marquette at 9 p.m.
I'm going to be at the Garden for 13 hours today, after spending 12 hours there yesterday. This will not be a problem.
• BIG NEWS ON THE POOL FRONT: We're taking the leap to Facebook for the Tourney Blog Pool this year. Here's how to get started:
• If you're already on Facebook, or have already added the SI Bracket Challenge Application, just follow this link to join our group, or merely accept the invitation that's on the front page of the Bracket Challenge.
• This is easier than it sounds, I promise. If you're old, and worried what your friends will think when they find out you're on Facebook, stop worrying. It's not just for college kids anymore. I signed up at the age of 27.
• OUR TOURNEY PLAYLIST, curated by the folks at Gorilla vs. Bear (who are still knee-deep in South by Southwest), rolls on: Day 2's track is the Black Lips' Not a Problem. They are children of Atlanta, the host of last year's Final Four -- but there is really no sense in trying to tie all of this in to basketball. It's just a nice track from a genre that David at GvB tells me must be referred to as "flower punk." Enjoy.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- On the first day of the third year of this Tourney Blog, I am awake much earlier than normal. Businessfolk might rise at this hour -- it's 7 a.m., and light has yet to peek through the curtains -- but sportswriters definitely don't. Syracuse's annual bubble quest at the Big East tournament doesn't begin for another five hours. That will be the beginning of 28 straight days of work for this blogger ... which is actually far more exciting than it is daunting.
This, I guess, should serve as your welcome-back post. A rundown of what's going on in my camp:
• I'll be covering the Big East tournament in NYC this week ...
• ... and the whole NCAA tournament, from various sites, after that.
• For the first time, the blog has an RSS feed. If you don't know what that is, just ignore it; if you do know what it is, subscribe.
• The Blog Pool is happening. Can we top the 642 entrants from last year? I think so. Don't let me down. Details coming tomorrow on how to join. There's a good chance it'll be on Facebook.
• In news that adds absolutely nothing to your reading experience, I'm using a new MacBook Air this year. It affects my blogging experience ... by exactly three pounds. I feel much more svelte.
• Finally, just to give you something extra in the mornings, the blog is building a Tourney playlist. One free mp3 each day, curated by our friends at gorillavsbear.net, who are running their share of shows at SXSW this week in Austin. The first one, in honor of the dateline on this post, is Brooklyn band Yeasayer, whose music was recently described by the New York Times as "Tribal yet futuristic, with flashes of African and Middle Eastern melody, and tangles of electronic effects that recall 1970s progressive rock." Enjoy it: Yeasayer - 2080.
Back with more today, and every day 'til we're done ...