Rock Chalk Jayhawk (Bruin, Tiger, and Tar Heel Too)

Maybe having all #1 seeds play in the Final Four for the first time ever will ensure us some close, interesting games — because watching three of the four teams whoop up on their opponents in Elite Eight games isn’t the most scintillating viewing.

UCLA was expected to win the West easily — playing a series of what could have been considered home games in Anaheim — and took apart the #3 seed Xavier with the precision Ben Howland teams have become known for in Phoenix.  Double-doubles for Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute represented ownership of the post and the boards, and Darren Collison showed his development as a point guard and a scorer by putting up 19 and turning Drew Lavender into a non-factor. Also important: UCLA got Josh Duncan in foul trouble early and kept B.J. Raymond from getting hot — which offset the apparent loss of Josh Shipp’s mojo.

I didn’t watch UNC-Louisville; I wasn’t sure it would be a double digit win, but apparently I did not miss a ton here. If the Tar Heels are clicking on all cylinders, that’s scary.

Memphis just flustered Texas completely, with size and strength inside and guards Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts just being bigger than D.J. Augustin and Damion James. Apparently John Calipari has figured out how to get this team to shoot from the stripe in the tourney, and Derrick Rose has probably shot up to where it has become a discussion of who would go first in the NBA lottery should he choose to go — him or Michael Beasley, and it would be a total toss up. Rose plays like UCLA’s Collison and Russell Westbrook combined and grew a couple inches: on the defensive end, he sees passes coming and is already going down the other way as soon as you’ve made the pass.

Bill Self is a very lucky man. Very lucky that Sasha Kaun bashed in the paint and Stephen Curry had a hard time getting open off screens all day, only shooting 9-for-25.  The one glaring fault with Curry’s game is that he does not have the ball-handling skills to create his  own shot, without the assistance of at least a screen or two — and when Self decided to go to the box-and-one defense, he couldn’t get those screens.  Kansas survived off nights from both Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush, but they had better show up against UNC next weekend.  As for Davidson’s future: the Wildcats will be back next year, and they may be better if Curry does learn a better handle.

Photo: AP/Eric Gay

Ill-Advised Elite Eight Predictions

Eh, like I’m not already in the hole and my bracket’s busted for good. Oh well.

Xavier vs. UCLA — the Bruins squeak this one out by the barest of margins. Ben Howland’s team has been scaring its fans from the beginning of the tournament with either comebacks or having teams get to very close margins. Xavier is the first threat of a team; one that people could actually see knocking off the Bruins. It essentially comes down to how Josh Duncan will play Kevin Love. I’ll enjoy watching two good point guards square off, too.

Louisville vs. UNC — the Tar Heels roll too deep on the bench to lose, in my eyes. Louisville makes it close — very, very close, and if this game goes to OT I won’t be shocked at all — but UNC will be in the Final Four come next weekend.  Also: please make note of how many times Tyler Hansbrough and David Padgett are referred to as “gritty” or “gutty” or “hard-working.”

Texas vs. Memphis — I give Memphis credit; they’ve lasted one round longer than I expected, but after watching the Longhorns destroy Stanford I think the Tigers will somehow manage to fuck it up, either via bad free throw shooting or being forced out of their game.

Davidson vs. Kansas – I don’t see this upset happening. Kansas is way too talented on both ends of the floor to get knocked off by a #10 seed. But if Sunday night ends with watching the Wildcats celebrate a trip to the Final Four, I won’t be surprised. Eventually we’re going to get used to Stephen Curry being amazing. Bill Self needs to get over the no Final Four hump here, but I have to admit, I’d like to see if Davidson’s trustees will cough up the funds to send students to the Final Four like they sent students and lodged them in Detroit for these games.

Photo: AP/Pat Sullivan

Ill-Advised Sweet 16 Predictions

Just the usual quick and dirty here. My Final Four is still intact, but I can’t say that I think it will be after the next two days.

East Regional:

  • UNC over Wazzu — this’ll be a slog of a game, I think, because this is the best defensive team the Heels will see unless they play UCLA in the final. UNC has enough talent to get by the Cougars, but they won’t be scoring 100 this time.
  • Tennessee beats Louisville — the Cardinals are streaking right now and the Vols look vulnerable. My pick of Tennessee is pure sticking with my bracket; it could go either way.

West Regional:

  • UCLA tops Western Kentucky — Nice run, Hilltoppers, but UCLA gets calls and plays defense too well. The Bruins can overcome a bad start.
  • Xavier over West Virginia — Like L’Ville/Tenn, this is a bracket pick that I’m sticking with because I think this will be a close game and don’t really know how it will go. I think Xavier’s defense will be the defining factor.

Midwest Regional:

  • Kansas over Villanova — Jayhawks, although it will not be a walkover and Villanova will give them a very good game.
  • Wisconsin ends Davidson’s run — On a Sweet 16 bracket, I picked Davidson for fun, but really, Bo Ryan’s defense seems to smother all and I don’t see another upset for the Wildcats here.

South Regional:

  • Michigan State upsets Memphis — Watch. The Tigers will kill themselves with bad free throw shooting and being forced to take jumpers that don’t fall.
  • Stanford beats Texas — Guard play is a big thing in the NCAA tournament, but having the Lopez twins to get points and clean up the boards will be crucial in a close Stanford win.

Photo: AP/Ted S. Warren

So, We’ve Got 16 Left

What did I screw up? Plenty, but all my Final Four choices are still in.  Let’s look at the less than obvious choices. UNC was expected to be at this level and are playing lights-out ball right now.  That’s about as simple as it gets. Tennessee and Memphis are serious liabilities at the free throw line, UCLA scared the crap out of just about everyone who’d picked them to win it all.  Kansas made short work of its first two opponents.

I should know better after watching the Pac-10 all year to have dismissed Washington State so easily. That’s a bad oversight, because I forgot that they played lockdown defense. Do I think they will beat UNC? Probably not, but it’s more validation for Tony Bennett.

Michigan State looked really inconsistent all year and then reels off two solid games to get back to the 16 — beating a Pitt team that was a very popular choice to go to the Final Four in the East. Now they get Memphis, and this is the round where no one will be surprised if Memphis loses to any of hte teams left.

I knew nothing about Western Kentucky going into the tournament. I guess I better know now.  I don’t have the same excuse for Davidson — I knew Stephen Curry was good, but 70 points in two games good? That I wasn’t aware of.

Wisconsin is consistent. They play Bo Ryan’s style and do it well enough to get back to the 16 even though they were a popular upset target.

Xavier worries me, they’ve had to make comebacks, and they’re going against a West Virginia team that’s overachieving in ways no one expected this year (this is one of the only feathers in my cap that I get to claim, predicting that WVU would beat Duke in that exact game.)

Texas has great players, but they’re just as likely to shoot poorly at the line as Memphis and Tennessee — and they have to play Stanford, who shoots well from the line, has better inside presence. Rick Barnes better hope Trent Johnson gets pissed off for no reason again.

Villanova, I completely passed on, and forgot that Jay Wright had gotten Wildcat teams to the Sweet 16 twice, now three times in four years as head coach. Oh well. Beating Siena wasn’t the hardest road into the 16, but who expected Villanova to be here right now?

Photo: AP/Chuck Burton

Above The Rim: Pauley Pavilion Makes Refs Eat Whistles

College hoops only-edition.

UCLA’s Josh Shipp makes an amazing circus shot to stave off the upset from a bad Cal team, but it never should have gotten to that point after Kevin Love’s 3-pointer. Russell Westbrook fouled Ryan Anderson on that in-bound and the refs swallowed the whistles instead of sending Anderson to the free throw line — making it the second curious (to put it mildly) officiating call the the Bruins have been the beneficiary of this weekend.  Ultimately, I believe UCLA will wind up a #1 seed in the West — even if they had lost to Cal — so they do not need extra help from the zebras.

An odd thing about O.J. Mayo, watching him — he cranks it up slowly, waiting for the game to come to him, and bam, he has 25 when the game is over.  The Trojans flat-out out-hustled Stanford at the Galen Center yesterday. Now, I understand the difference between 2nd and 4th in the Pac-10 is really not that much, but when you have two 7-foot centers patrolling the insides against a lanky 6’8″ forward in Taj Gibson, there’s no excuse for not dominating the boards.

Georgetown beats Louisville in a squeaker via a three from DaJuan Summers in the final seconds — plus some bad free throw shooting from the Cardinals late. It gives the Hoyas back-to-back regular season conference titles for the first time.

Kansas is playing lights out — of course, when the opposition is oft-hapless Texas A&M, it helps make getting a share of the regular-season conference title easier.

Xavier’s Drew Lavender sits out with an ankle injury while his teammates lock up their second straight Atlantic-10 title against Richmond. The Musketeers are a scary team that plays tough for any of the bigger teams that will have to face them in a first round match-up.

This year’s UNC team did what it should do when you look at the match-up on paper — beat Duke for the ACC regular-season title.  The reason why? Duke missed its last 11 shots in the game and had 15 shots blocked by Tar Heel players. This is why Duke will be out fairly quickly in the tourney — not first round early, depending on the team they face — when their outside shooting doesn’t hit, they don’t have a whole lot else.

Above The Rim: Providing The Answer.

Nuggets 105, Blazers 103 – Allen Iverson had to help save the Nuggets tonight, after allowing a 17-point lead to go by the wayside. He put up 19 of his 25 points in the 4th quarter, and then went on to put upt he game-winning shot in overtime.  Camelo Anthony led all scorers with 28; Brandon Roy had 26.

Jazz 110, Hornets 88 –  The Jazz get their ninth straight win on Deron Williams’ 29 points and 11 boards (he also held Chris Paul to six points total on defense).  Utah also made it rain three pointers, hitting 13 in the game.

Mavericks 107, Magic 98 – Dallas kept double-digit leads on Orlando until the fourth quarter, when the Magic got to within three — but then the Mavericks went on a 10-0 run to end it.  Josh Howard had 28; Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry had 20 each.

Hawks 96, 76ers 91 – Atlanta fell 20 behind Philly early, and then Josh Smith decided he wasn’t going to let a few shots through. Smith had 9 blocks (six in the second quarter, part of a 14-block performance by the team) to go with his 19 points and nine assists.

Kansas 90, Mizzou 71 – Despite a full compliment of players, the Tigers get beat in the hoop version of the Border War.  Brandon Rush leads the Jayhawks with 19, as the football team is honored during halftime, rubbing even more salt into wounds.

St. Mary’s 89, Gonzaga 85 (OT) – Todd Golden drains six threes for the Gaels, as freshman point guard Patty Mills scores 23 despite going only 5-for-15 from the field — and pulling the first conference loss on the Bulldogs.

Louisville 71, Marquette 57 – Something about the Cardinals’ defense just absolutely knocks the Golden Eagles over, as Marquette only shot 32 percent from the field in this game.

Photo: AP/Don Ryan

How Fired Is Your Coach? – College Football Edition.

This is just what it sounds like, folks. We look at some of the coaches who were on the hot seat at their respective schools when the season began (or after the first couple of weeks) and see where they stand right now. If I’m missing anyone, drop a note in comments and/or assess them yourself.

Bill Callahan, Nebraska – He was already under the gun, now having all of his recruits from the past few years in house and looking to clean up in a Big 12 North with no particular favorite outside of Lincoln to get waxed by either OU or Texas in the championship game. Now, with his main backer in AD Steve Pederson fired, his team at a severely underperforming 4-5, and interim AD Tom Osborne’s verbal slip-up in an interview, Callahan knows it.

Verdict: Already cleaning out his office in preparation.

Karl Dorrell, UCLA – Beset by bad game-planning on offense against teams he should beat easily (Utah, Notre Dame) and injuries at QB that would stymie the best of coaches, Dorrell finds himself in a mess created half by his own incompetence as a motivator and half by fate, and being haunted by the message-board die-hards who cry for his scalp every week. Their cries are now getting to boosters (although I hope they’re all smart enough to ignore one particular comment on BruinsNation calling for Rick Neuheisel. Ick.)

Verdict: Likely safe for one more year because the injuries aren’t things he can control, despite the rabble-rousing. If he loses his last three, that will change.

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