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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sunday Picks

Another day where i start off strong, another day where i get killed at night. One last round of picks for the second round games on Sunday:

Texas -6.5 vs. Miami (L)

Tennessee -4.5 vs. Butler (W)

Georgetown -5.5 vs. Davidson (L)

UNC -11 vs. Arkansas (W)

Pound Georgetown. That line should be double digits...

21st National Title

Before the individual NCAA Championship matches even begin, the University of Iowa has already staked claim to the team title, courtesy of dominance throughout the tournament.

With the individual championship matches set to begin in just a few minutes, here's a look at how some of the other Iowa wrestlers did:

Jay Borschel (Soph - 174) finished third.

Matt Fields (Senior - Hwt) finished fifth.

Charlie Falck (Junior - 125) finished sixth.

Phillip Keddy (Soph - 184) finished sixth.

Those matches were all decided earlier today in the consolation brackets. Tonight in the title matches Iowa has three wrestlers competing:

Joe Slaton (Soph - 133) is seeking his first National Title. (Update: Slaton was pinned in the first round and finished second)

Brent Metcalf (Soph - 149) is seeking his first National Title. (Update: Metcalf was taken down twice early and fell behind 4-1, then stormed back and won 14-8 to win his first National Championship)

Mark Perry (Senior - 165) is looking to defend his National Title. (Update: And he did it! Perry wins 5-2 to defend his Championship!)

With their first team title since 2000 already locked up, the Iowa team has reclaimed it's spot atop the standings. Watching on tv, you can see quite a bit of support in the stands in St. Louis for the Hawkeyes, as well as the announcers saying repeatedly that the buzz is back about the program. Coach Tom Brands has done a great job returning the Hawkeyes to a Championship caliber team.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Second Round Picks

Good god, thank the lord the work week is over and i have nothing to do the next two days but watch basketball. The fact that i haven't watched much college basketball this year has been painfully obvious in my picks, as i've been 4-4 so far in the tourney. Not gonna lie though, feeling much better about my second round picks...

W. Virginia +4 vs. Duke (W)

Xavier -3 over Purdue (W)

Stanford -3 vs. Marquette (L)

Pitt -2 vs. Michigan St. (L)

UCLA -10.5 over Texas A&M (L)

Weekend Press Conference

Here's your Friday afternoon Press Conference to tide you over into the weekend, courtest of the University of Michigan. This is fairly recent, but cracks me up. Apparently this coach has a thing about offensive rebounds...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tourney Picks

These are my picks for Friday's games. Note that i am picking as if i am in Vegas (where i usually am this time of year), which means i'm not picking games just to pick them - I only pick games i like and feel strongly about. That's why there's only a couple picks here...

Tennessee -19.5 vs. American (L)

Georgetown -17 over UMBC (W)

Iowa Wrestling

For those of you who don't know (see: everyone reading this), the NCAA Wrestling Championships are this weekend in St. Louis. And, again for those of you who don't know (again, see: everyone reading this), my Iowa Hawkeyes are the odds-on favorite to win this year. This is significant for two reasons:

One, the Hawkeyes are back to their dominating ways, returning to the form they held when Dan Gable was the coach from 1976 to 1997. Coach Tom Brands returned to Iowa last year, and in just two years returned Iowa to the Championship form they had slipped from under former coach Jim Zalesky.

Two, because of this story, about 5 kids who have followed Coach Brands from Va. Tech to Iowa just to wrestle with him. It's a great story and incredibly shady what Va. Tech did.

Most of you will never understand how big wrestling is in the state of Iowa. Former coach Dan Gable is a legend in Iowa, having led the Hawkeyes to 15 National Titles and 21 Big Ten Championships in 21 years, a run unparalleled in any other sport. The Iowa dominance was a thing of state pride; as a result the sport of wrestling became huge in high schools and below in the state. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts; the dominance of the U. of Iowa led to all the best wrestlers wanting to wrestle here, many staying in Iowa after their collegiate career and coaching at high schools around the state, forming the next generation of great wrestlers.

When Gable left the program, it slipped just a tad, ultimately resulting in the best wrestler in collegiate history, Cael Sanderson, going to Iowa State and helping their already strong program, where he is currently the head coach. When Brands, who along with his brother Terry were great wrestlers at Iowa, returned to coach the Hawkeyes he brought Gable back as an assistant. Together the two have quickly returned Iowa to national prominence, culminating in a 21-1 dual record this year and Championships in both the Midlands Championships and the Big Ten Tournament.

This weekend they will attempt to score the trifecta, and claim their first National Championship since 2000.

Greatest. Invention. Ever.

So i brought my laptop into work with me this morning, mainly so i could finish up the bracket i'm running and make sure i was all set for the Tourney. That done and the tourney starting, i decided to check out the feature on CBS Sportsline that supposedly lets you watch all the games live on your computer.

Yeah, it's pretty much the greatest thing in the history of the world. I'm stuck at work, but i have my 15in computer monitor off to my right with the games on it, all live. It's been a little herky-jerky, as i expected, but the picture quality is better than i thought i would be and it's been fairly smooth.

Maybe today and tomorrow won't be too bad afterall...

It's Tourney Time!

For the record, here's my picks for today's games:

Purdue -3 vs. Baylor (W)

Pitt -8.5 vs. Oral Roberts (W)

Stanford -15 vs. Cornell (W)

Cal-State Fullerton +11 vs. Wisconsin (L)

George Mason +6.5 vs. Notre Dame (L)

Miss. Valley St. +32 vs. UCLA (L)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Suns vs. Sonics

Seeing as how i took a half day at work today for no other reason than to, ummm, well i have no reason really. Regardless, since i've been home since about 1 this afternoon, i've been on a quest to perfect a homemade White Russian. Which, i might add, is coming along swimmingly, my own health and sobriety not withstanding.

Anyway, i hope to have this pursuit completed by the time the Suns tip-off tonight at 7, in an important game against the Sonics. Granted, the Sonics are struggling this year, but the Suns are coming off a good game last night at Portland. The Suns have struggled on back-to-backs this season, and this could be a potential trap game for the Suns.

The Suns come in riding a five-game winning streak, the longest in the NBA right now, and on a high of finally figuring things out with Shaq. The media has started to take notice, and some have proclaimed that the Suns are back on track to contend for a championship. The Suns are excited, and this is exactly the type of game that could trip them up if they look past it.

That said, i don't think this Suns team will do that. Not with Shaq, who in between tussling with Joel Pryzxjzilllyha (name spelled incorrectly on purpose) and getting mauled by James Jones, found time to shake hands with Blazers owner Paul Allen. Shaq has this team not only playing well, but focused as well.

I think the Suns are on track to contend in the Western Conference, and this current winning streak is the right start. They are only a game out of the Pacific Division lead, and home-court in the first-round of the playoffs. This is exactly the type of game they need to put away early on. And the way the Sonics have been getting scored on lately (289 points given up in their last games), the Suns should be able to do just that.

Now back to my own pursuit. My last White Russian wasn't as good as the one before, so i'm off to refine. See you all after the game...

Your Wednesday Afternoon Press Conference

This video brought to you by the Indianapolis Colts and their horrific offense:

Playoffs?!? Are you kidding me?! Kills me every time...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

ASU Seed

Let's see where they are in the bracket...

Hmm, there's Arizona at the #10 seed in the West.

I don't see Syracuse in there, that's got to be a good sign right?

West Virginia is there as an at-large.

Wait, wait a second. I don't see ASU! Where are they?!



SunShaq Redemption

Well, what a difference a week makes. A week ago, going into a pivotal game against the hated Spurs (Sterns), the Suns were a team in disarray, having just blown a 9-point lead going into the 4th quarter against the Jazz, and getting outscored 41-24 in the quarter. Including that game, they had lost 4 of 5, and were just 3-6 with Shaq in the lineup. The Spurs were on the horizon, as was the possibility of the Suns not making the playoffs, and a lot of people, including the local media, were on the verge of panicking. Now? Not so much...

The Spurs game was a gritty, hard-fought contest in which the Suns came from behind in the 4th quarter and made all the big shots down the stretch, something the Spurs have continually done to the Spurs. Next up was a Memphis team that had given the Suns problems this year, and many saw as a possible let-down game. The Suns poured it on early and often, and cruised to a blow-out win. Two more game against Golden State and Sacramento followed, as did two wins and point totals in the 120's. Against Golden State it was a huge 3rd quarter that turned the tide; against Sacto it was a 42-14 beatdown in the 2nd that set the tone.

And now, just a week after many thought all was lost for the Suns, they sit in a tie for the 5th seed, just a game and a half behind the Lakers for the Pacific Division Lead and the #1 seed in the playoffs. They are on a four-game winning streak, their longest since the first week of December, and are suddenly looking like a team that has figured out how to integrate all their new people, including Shaq and Gordon Giricek.

To his credit, Shaq has been better than i thought he would be, producing double-doubles, rebounds galore, and even getting into the assist game, with 6 against the Grizz. He has shored up the Suns defensive rebounding woes, and provided some much needed toughness and grit. He has thrown his body around, sprinted up and down the court, and generally played like a man who is doing exactly what he said he would do when he got here: Play motivated, play hard, and get the rest of the Suns to fall in line.

It took about two weeks and ten games, but the Suns have finally come around and figured out how to play with the first true big man the franchise has ever had.

Amare has been playing out of his mind, a walking 29-point 9-rebound machine since Shaq freed him up to play his true power forward position. Shaq himself has averaged 11 and 10, which gives the Suns a formidable front line. These two have been playing well since Shaq showed up; the adjustment for the Suns has had to come on the perimeter. As the announcers said on Thursday against the Warriors, of all the Suns Steve Nash has had to make the biggest adjustment in his game.

Nash struggled at first, his turnovers shooting up and his assists dropping. The strength and focal point of Nash's game has always been to dribble into the lane, draw a crowd, and do one of three things. A) Dish to Amare or Boris diving to the hole for a dunk or layup, B) Get himself open for a 8-10 footer, or C) Draw the defense in and dish to a wide-open Bell or Barbosa behind the arc for a three.

It's that simple, and that's how the Suns offense ran when forced into a half-court set. With Shaq in the game clogging the lane, Nash did not have the space available to just dribble around inside; as a result he got caught in tight places underneath the basket with no one streaking down the lane and without the space to kick it out. His turnovers went up, his assists down.

The first couple of games with Shaq, the team, and Nash in particular, struggled trying to figure out how to best get Shaq the ball, and what to do from there. You saw forced entry passes to him, you saw Shaq setting screens beyond the arc, and you saw the team struggle. As they've had time to play together and figure it out, you are starting to see it all come together.

Shaq is getting himself into better position on the block early in the shot clock. The entry passes are getting the ball to him. With him on the block, there is room in the lane for Amare to come streaking down the middle, and Shaq has the ability to get him the ball as Nash used to. If that's not there, teams are sagging their defense on Shaq and leaving the arc open, and Shaq has found the shooters out there, as Nash used to do. The offensive principles have not changed for the Suns, just as Shaq claimed it wouldn't. The only thing that has changed is who it is running through.

The other thing that Shaq has finally figured out, almost to perfection, is how to ignite the fast break. He claimed when he arrived in Phoenix that big man have the ability to get the board and ignite the break with an outlet pass. Shaq is becoming a master of this, throwing 15 and 20 foot passes to the guards as they leak out. So not only has the Suns half-court offense worked out most of it's kinks, their fast-break is hitting on all cylinders.

All of which should make the rest of the Western Conference a little nervous.