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NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship: Who Do I Like?

Posted by sportsmaven on April 7, 2009

As the natural follow up to yesterday’s post on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (hint: who I like and who wins seldom cross paths these days) I have my pick for tonight’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship.  Now after last night’s debacle in choosing Michigan State over North Carolina, many are now wondering if I have the fortitude to choose the underdog yet again.  Remember, it’s either the University of Connecticut Lady Huskies or the University of Louisville Lady Cardinals.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Last year, as my daughter reminds me over and over again, I picked against University of Tennessee and they won.  This year, I’m tell you who I like and I think it will be no surprise to anybody:

I’m going with UConn to beat Louisville 78-60 in an all Big East National Championship final.  Louisville will keep it close with defense, but ultimately, the Lady Huskies will break it open, complete their undefeated season and their 6th National Championship, their first since 2004.

Last night I went for the sentimental underdog, the Michigan State Spartans, playing at home and I got blown out of the water by a very determined and talented North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team.  (The Spartans got blown out of the water and took me with them.)

Tonight — it’s all about the favorite, taking a tight game and turning it into an 18-point win.  University of Connecticut will be the 2008-09 Women’s National Champion in basketball.

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship: Who Do I Like?

Posted by sportsmaven on April 6, 2009

Tonight’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game kicks off a week of solid sports events, both inside and outside Chicago.  If you are even a basketball neophyte, the question everyone is asking is who do you like in tonight’s game?  Remember, it’s either the Michigan State Spartans or the North Carolina Tar Heels.  I’ll tell you who I like and I think it will be a surprise to some:

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

I like Michigan State by 6 points.  The latest Las Vegas lines have North Carolina favored by 7 1/2 points against Michigan State, with an over/under of 153 points.  See for yourself, the Las Vegas Sun has the betting line on any kind of bet you can imagine for tonight’s game.

So your next question may be: Why do you like Michigan State so much?  Who would pick them to beat the heavily favored North Carolina Tar Heels?  Below are my reasons why:

1.  Playing at Ford Field is essentially a home game for Michigan State.  Not essentially, it IS a home game for the Spartans.  Home court advantage is typically worth a few extra points in hype and comfort to start any game.  In a tournament game, it’s worth even more.  In a championship game?  It’s worth it’s weight in gold.  Championship games are played at neutral sites to avoid the appearance of giving the home team a distinct advantage.  In this case, Michigan State is playing their biggest game of the season in front of what appears to be a very strong home court advantage.  Don’t think for a moment that Spartans coach Tom Izzo isn’t pulling out all the stops in the motivation department tonight.

2.  The rematch factor — North Carolina and Michigan State played each other on this very same court in the very same venue earlier this season (December 3rd, 2008).  The game was a blowout – the Tar Heels won by 35 points.  My rabid North Carolina basketball fans will say this shows a clear and distinct advantage for the Tar Heels.   Not so.  It’s very difficult to beat a team twice in a season, especially if the teams are close to each other in terms of talent/skill.  In December, Michigan State was playing their 4th game of the week and it showed.  They were also missing F Goran Suton, who has been playing his best basketball at the right time.  He’ll be needed to joust with Tar Heels F Tyler Hansborough.  North Carolina played it’s best ball in December.  Michigan State is peaking exactly at the right time.

3.  Championships come down to defense.  Ask University of Connecticut.  Ask any team that has played Michigan State.  Their defense is on fire right now. Michigan State made it their mission to shut down UConn’s front court on Saturday, which they did quite effectively.  UConn helped by missing 12 of 33 free throws, something I don’t expect the Tar Heels to do if they were in the same position.  Michigan State knows how to play an open style of offense.  They did it to beat UConn.  They also know how to play lock down defense as well as to play against lockdown defense, as they did it all season in the Big 10 in conference play.  The team that plays as though it’s on a mission on defense will win the game.  I believe that will be Michigan State.

There you go.  The prediction?  Michigan State 83, North Carolina 77 (yes, that would mean I am taking the over on the total points as well.)

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NCAA Tournament Bracketology: SportsMaven vs. President Obama, First Round

Posted by sportsmaven on March 20, 2009

Virtually every college basketball fan who watches ESPN knows that President Barack Obama is a HUGE basketball fan.  it is also well known (or at least it should be by now) that President Obama took a moment to step away from blistering AIG executives for handing out bonuses and in true American fashion, filled out his own 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket, which is posted on ESPN and now becomes some form of public record, visible to the entire sports loving, internet consuming, content craving public.

Photo by: Pete Souza

Photo by: Pete Souza

In the American spirit of competition and for love of comparative analysis, I wondered how my picks compared to basketball-crazy, sports passionate President Obama’s picks.  It is well known that the President loves to talk smack about all things basketball, so lets see how he compares to the SportsMaven:

The photo of President Obama’s picks:

President Obama's NCAA Basketball Picks

President Obama's 2009 NCAA Basketball Picks

For those who don’t recall my picks, here is a link to the full post.

So how’s the comparison after the first half of the first round games?

  • President Obama went 11-5, missing picks on BYU, Butler, Illinois, Clemson, and the upset special, VCU.
  • SportsMaven went 14-2, missing picks on Illinois and Clemson.

Stay tuned for an updated post on the final results for the first round, but so far, looking strong against President Obama.

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Fighting Illini Are One And Done…With A Thud

Posted by sportsmaven on March 19, 2009

Just think of what could have been if the Fighting Illini played the entire game like they played the last 6 minutes of  tonight’s first round NCAA Tournament game.  Watching the University of Illinois basketball team play tonight, you would have thought their record was 9-24.  If you didn’t know better, a 24-9 record would have been unfathomable.

(AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)

(AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)

In the opening round of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, Illini coach Bruce Weber was selling his team as the underdog.  I think Weber has an incredible understanding of his basketball team after witnessing their performance in tonight’s game.

Illinois just got totally outplayed tonight by a very scrappy Western Kentucky University Hilltopper team.  The Hilltoppers played very impressively in beating Illinois 76-72, putting an end to an overachieving season for the Fighting Illini, who lost 4 of their last 5 games to close the season. Down by 17 points with 6 minutes to play, Illinois made a furious comeback to make the final score respectable, but this game was lost by their sloppy, uninspired play in the first 34 minutes of the game.

The Illini were outhustled on both sides of the floor tonight, being out-rebounded by 10 boards.  Western Kentucky came out playing intense, at an incredibly quick pace and they made Illinois looked like they were standing still, which is literally how they played this game.  Illinois looked asleep, getting killed by back door cuts and the wide open 3-point shot.  Illinois looked bored, unathletic, lacking physical play and all-out effort.  The end result was reflective of the effort that Illinois provided.

I wrote in a post earlier in the week that if Illinois G Chester Frazier couldn’t play, the trio of sophomore players needed to step up their games.  G Demetri McCamey, F Mike Davis, and C Mike Tisdale needed to step up to lead this team.  Of the three, Davis was the only one that even came close to doing anything productive.  McCamey once again, played small on the big stage and Tisdale was never in the game, physically or mentally.  The only Illini player that was ready to play at the same level of intensity and passion was senior G Trent Meacham, who led Illinois in scoring with 24 points.

The Fighting Illini have lacked an inside game for as long as I can remember.  Even in 2005 when Illinois was national runner-up to North Carolina, they were a guard oriented, perimeter dominant team.  At least the guards on that team had a little athleticism.  The current Illini team lacks explosive athleticism at the guard position and their interior players lack strength and quickness.

The next two years of recruiting classes will bring a much needed fusion of talent, both on the perimeter and on the inside.  Then we’ll see how the Illini game fares.  Until that talent arives, the Illini faithful should be estatic that this year’s team won 24 games with this level of talent.

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2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Picks

Posted by sportsmaven on March 19, 2009

Three hours until tip off of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  Today launches two of the most unproductive work days of the year.  I’ve already completed and posted my women’s picks yesterday.  The men’s bracket is more of a challenge.  In the women’s game, the difference between the best and worst teams is much greater than in the men’s game. That fact makes the men’s brackets more difficult to choose, as more teams have a chance to upset higher seeded teams.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

There are really four strategies you can follow in doing your brackets.  The first strategy is just to pick the higher seed and let the lesser teams get washed out and separated.  There are always going to be upsets, but how do you decided which high seed is vulnerable?  You don’t.  Let the law of averages rule overrule luck.

The second strategy is to pick which teams will be upset in which rounds.  Play the hot hand, requires some working knowledge of which teams are peaking going into the tournament and which teams are upstart enough to engineer an upset.

The third strategy is to find an expert’s brackets and choose those picks.  The ESPN experts picks.  Leverage their knowledge and exposure to the game to make your picks.  You might even do well with this strategy if you want to win the office basketball pool.  It’s not sexy, nor a challenge, but it seems better than the last strategy – what I call the women’s pick.  Pick by favorite team, mascot names, colors, and allegiances.  This is the most random of all methods, but one that seems to produce a winner on rare occasion.  Even resourceful women ask their men to make their picks, but those who opt to make their own, good luck!

So, for those who exercise the choose the experts picks, here are my picks.  Good luck if you decide to use these picks.  If you win anything, I want my cut of the payout:

First round winners:

Midwest Region: Louisville, Ohio State, Arizona, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Kansas, USC, Michigan State

West Region: Connecticut, Texas A&M, Purdue, Washington, Marquette, Missouri, Maryland, Memphis

East Region: Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Florida State, Xavier, UCLA, Villanova, Texas, Duke

South Region: North Carolina, LSU, Illinois, Gonzaga, Arizona State, Syracuse, Clemson, Oklahoma

Sweet 16: Louisville, Wake Forest, Kansas, Michigan State, Connecticut, Washington, Marquette, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Florida State, UCLA, Duke, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Oklahoma

Final 4: Louisville, Memphis, Pittsburgh, North Carolina

National Championship Game: Louisville vs. North Carolina

National Championship: Louisville

I wrestled back and forth between Louisville and North Carolina before choosing Louisville.  This is, perhaps, Rick Pitino’s best team at Louisville and they look poised for a run all the way.  I thought going into the tournament that the two teams that the biggest chips on their shoulders would be Louisville and Memphis.  The arguments against Memphis always starts and ends with their soft conference schedule.  I think Memphis is one of the 4 best teams in the country.  I just hope they prove me correct in this tournament.

There are the picks, and with more than an hour to spare.  Check back often, as I will update my progress after each round.

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