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Takeaways and observations from the opening weekend of March Madness

The madness is under way and it is as awesome as ever. Nine lower seeded teams won in the first (technically the second) round. Four more upsets occurred en route to the Sweet Sixteen. Here are some takeaways, observations, facts, and figures about the first three rounds of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament:

  • A No. 12 seed has defeated a No. 5 seed in 11 of the past 12 seasons and in 22 of the past 24 years. 2013 was no exception; in fact, it was even more extreme than normal. Three No. 12 seeds (Oregon, California, and Ole Miss) pulled off an upset against a No. 5 seed (Oklahoma State, UNLV, and Wisconsin).
  • For the first time ever, a No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 seed in the same region lost in the round of 64. New Mexico, Kansas State, and Wisconsin were defeated in the West Region.
  • The Mountain West, which was the toughest conference in the country in the regular season according to RPI, has been completely eliminated from the tournament after a 2-5 showing for its five teams that made the tourney.
  • The Pac-12 may have been under-seeded and is getting hot at the right time. Two Pac-12 teams with No. 12 seeds (California and Oregon) defeated No. 5 seeds and the conference put two teams (Arizona and Oregon) in the Sweet Sixteen. Arizona defeated No. 11 seed Belmont by 17 points and No. 14 seed Harvard by 23. Oregon topped No. 5 seed Oklahoma State by 13 points and No. 4 seed Saint Louis by 17.
  • Teams from the state of Florida are 6-0 and all three (No. 2 seed Miami, No. 3 seed Florida, and No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast) are in the Sweet Sixteen. Florida and Florida Gulf Coast will face each other on Friday.
  • Big Ten Tournament Champion Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team that did not win a game in the tournament. The conference is 10-3 and has a team in the Sweet Sixteen in each region.
  • For the third year in a row, there was a matchup between a No. 12 seed and No. 13 seed in the round of 32. No. 12 seed Ole Miss and No. 13 seed La Salle faced off in the West Region. Last year it was No. 12 South Florida and No. 13 Ohio that matched up in the Midwest Region and two years ago No. 12 seed Richmond and No. 13 seed Morehead State played in the Southwest Region.
  • No. 13 seed La Salle is doing its best to model itself after 2011 Virginia Commonwealth, who was a No. 11 seed. The Rams played in the First Four before making a Final Four run, where they lost to No. 8 seed Butler. The La Salle Explorers finished tied for third in the A-10, then defeated No. 13 seed Boise State, No. 4 seed Kansas State, and No. 12 seed Ole Miss to reach the Sweet Sixteen. They will face No. 9 seed Wichita State on Thursday.
No. 13 seed La Salle will attempt to follow Virginia Commonwealth's footsteps as a First Four team to make the Final Four. (Image courtesy of www.usatoday.com)
No. 13 seed La Salle will attempt to follow Virginia Commonwealth’s footsteps as a First Four team to make the Final Four. (Image courtesy of http://www.usatoday.com)
  • Only two of the four Naismith Award finalists remain in the tournament–Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke. Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. and Creighton’s Doug McDermott did not make it out of the first weekend.
  • The main color of the past nine NCAA Champions was blue. Eight (Duke, La Salle, Arizona, Marquette, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida, Michigan, and Kansas) of the remaining schools have blue as their main color.

Bracketology Report: Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati Bearcats—(19-7, 7-6)—10th in the Big East

Strength of schedule: 31

RPI: 42

BPI: 21

Good wins:

  • 77-66 vs. Oregon
  • 70-61 @ Pittsburgh
  • 71-69 OT vs. Marquette

Bad losses:

  • 54-50 @ Providence

Remaining schedule:

  • 2/21 @ Connecticut
  • 2/24 @ No. 24 Notre Dame
  • 3/2 vs. Connecticut
  • 3/4 @ Louisville
  • 3/9 vs. South Florida

Even though Cincinnati has six conference losses and sits towards the bottom of the Big East standings, the Bearcats have been competitive in every game they’ve played in this season. Four of their losses have come against ranked opponents and another was against an unranked New Mexico squad that is now No. 16. UC has lost two games by one point, in addition to three other losses by six points or fewer. The Bearcats have proven that they’re a tough out but they lack quality conference wins, which are readily available in a conference with six ranked teams.

Cincinnati has held its opponents below 70 points on 23 occasions this season. However, the Bearcats’ offense leaves them susceptible to close losses in low-scoring games. Junior guard Sean Kilpatrick leads the team with his 18 points per game average on 41.6% shooting. Senior guards Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker are the only other Bearcats to average in double figures in scoring. UC’s offense is too guard heavy and Cincinnati is lacking an inside scoring presence that the team had last season with center Yancy Gates.

Cincinnati junior guard Sean Kilpatrick leads the team with an 18 points per game scoring average. (Image courtesy of bleacherreport.com)
Cincinnati junior guard Sean Kilpatrick leads the team with an 18 points per game scoring average. (Image courtesy of bleacherreport.com)

Cincinnati’s résumé is certainly tournament worthy but the Bearcats still have lots of room for improvement. At this point, UC is on pace for a seven, eight or nine seed. With four games remaining against Louisville, Notre Dame and Connecticut, who are fourth, fifth, and sixth in the Big East, respectively, the Bearcats could move up to a No. 4 or No. 5 seed if they run the table. A strong showing in the Big East Tournament would allow Cincinnati to be in the discussion as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed.

Prediction: Cincinnati will lose at Connecticut and Notre Dame, then end its three-game losing streak with a home victory over UConn. The Bearcats will lose on the road to Louisville and end the regular season with a win over South Florida to finish the season 21-10 (9-9). UC will be the No. 10 seed in the Big East Tournament. Cincinnati will win its first game and lose the second. The Bearcats will be a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The first college basketball stock report of 2013

Conference play is officially underway in most conferences, which means that it’s time to evaluate whether it’s time to buy, sell or hold stock in some of the country’s top college basketball teams.

BUY

Butler

Brad Stevens has the Butler Bulldogs looking up as they head into A-10 play. (Image courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1446736-butlers-brad-stevens-the-most-job-secure-coach-in-college-basketball)
Brad Stevens has the Butler Bulldogs looking up as they head into A-10 play. (Image courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1446736-butlers-brad-stevens-the-most-job-secure-coach-in-college-basketball)

The Bulldogs’ two losses came in the team’s first five games and since their loss to Illinois, who is currently ranked eleventh, Brad Stevens’ squad has rattled off nine straight victories, including a win over No. 1 Indiana. Butler is playing their trademark tough defense and the Bulldogs have wins over Marquette, North Carolina and Northwestern in addition to knocking off the Hoosiers. Butler is the favorite to win the A-10 and its stock can continue to rise with a good conference record.

VCU

The Rams suffered three early losses to Wichita State, who is likely the second best team in the Missouri Valley, Duke and Missouri. However, VCU rebounded and is 12-3 with favorable chances to win a wide open Atlantic 10.

Minnesota

The Golden Gophers started the season unranked but have won their way to the ninth spot in the rankings. Their lone loss was to Duke, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of considering the Blue Devils’ success this season. Minnesota is on a nine game win streak and has won six consecutive games by double digits, with the latest being a 76-63 home win against No. 18 Michigan State.

Kansas State

In Bruce Weber’s first year as head coach of the Wildcats, Kansas State is off to an impressive 12-2 record. K-State lost to Michigan and Gonzaga early in the season but have put those behind them with wins over Florida and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats will be in the mix of teams competing for second place in the Big 12 behind Kansas.

Kentucky

UK was way overrated at No. 3 in the preseason but the Wildcats have had time to work out some of their kinks in their non-conference schedule. Ryan Harrow gives them a good option at point guard that they were missing early in the season. They lost to Duke and Louisville, two of the top four teams in the country, and Notre Dame in their first true road test. Many of the growing pains are out of the way and a top three finish in the SEC isn’t out of the question as the will compete with Florida and Missouri for the conference title.

SELL

Ohio State

Brandon Paul and the Fighting Illini handled their business against Ohio State and make basketball fans wonder how good the Buckeyes really are. (Image courtesy of http://www.toledoblade.com/Ohio-State/2013/01/05/No-11-Illinois-rebounds-with-home-win-over-No-8-Buckeyes-74-55.html)
Brandon Paul and the Fighting Illini handled their business against Ohio State and make basketball fans wonder how good the Buckeyes really are. (Image courtesy of http://www.toledoblade.com/Ohio-State/2013/01/05/No-11-Illinois-rebounds-with-home-win-over-No-8-Buckeyes-74-55.html)

The Buckeyes have faced three ranked teams-Duke, Kansas and Illinois-and lost all three games. With six ranked teams in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will have to win big games, especially on the road, and they haven’t proven that they’re up to the challenge just yet.

Pittsburgh

The Panthers cracked the AP Top 25 with an appearance at No. 24 but it will be short-lived after losing to Cincinnati and Rutgers in their first two Big East games, which makes then tied for last place in the conference. Pittsburgh had two freshmen in the starting lineup, which could make for a slow start to conference play.

Cincinnati

Mick Cronin’s Bearcats reached as high as eighth in the rankings but Cincinnati lost to New Mexico and St. John’s in the team’s last three games. UC has a challenging next matchup when it hosts No. 21 Notre Dame on Monday.

Wisconsin

The Badgers entered the season in the AP Top 25 but fell quickly out of the polls after losses to Florida, Creighton, Virginia and Marquette. Wisconsin plays Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State in consecutive games in January, which bodes for a difficult month and a bad start to Big Ten play.

HOLD

Duke

The Blue Devils have passed every test that has been thrown at them this season but they can only move down in the rankings from the No. 1 spot. Duke will be expected to win the ACC but North Carolina State, North Carolina or Maryland all have the talent to upset the Blue Devils in conference play.

Arizona

Sean Miller’s Wildcats are the best team out West but San Diego State, Colorado and Utah’s close losses have shown that Arizona is vulnerable and it could suffer its first loss to a PAC-12 opponent this month.

Illinois

The Fighting Illini are a very difficult team to examine. They won by double digits against Butler and on the road against Gonzaga. Then Illinois lost to Missouri and Purdue in a three-game stretch, followed by a dominating win over Ohio State. Illinois is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten but their up and down play gives the impression that they will have their share of impressive wins and tough losses this season.

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys blew out North Carolina State early in the season but have lost consecutive games to No. 10 Gonzaga and No. 25 Kansas State, which means that Oklahoma State still has room for improvement in the remainder of the season.

Michigan

The country’s No. 2 team is off to a 15-0 start but it is only a matter of time until the Wolverines lose their first game. The Big Ten schedule for every team is a mine field–one bad step or slip up and Michigan can receive the first blemish on its 2012-13 campaign. However, the Wolverines are one of the best teams in the country and will give Indiana a run for its money to win the Big Ten.

Stay tuned for the next edition of Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.!

A tale of two halves as Cincinnati comes from behind against Pittsburgh

The No. 14 Cincinnati Bearcats traveled to No. 24 Pittsburgh in the opening game of Big East play. Both teams entered the matchup with a 12-1 record. Cincinnati was coming off of a one-point loss to New Mexico and Pittsburgh’s lone slip up was in a close game against No. 4 Michigan in November.

Cincinnati entered a difficult environment to play in at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Penn. Since it opened in 2002, the Panthers had only lost 19 times at home entering the matchup. However, the Bearcats had momentum in the conference rivalry after defeating Pittsburgh, who was ranked 22nd, in its Big East opener last season.

The Bearcats looked lost on both ends of the court to start the game. No one picked up Pittsburgh freshman point guard James Robinson as he cut to the basket for an easy layup on the Panthers’ opening possession. Then, Senior guard Cashmere Wright dribbled the ball off of his foot and turned it over in Cincinnati’s first possession. Junior guard Sean Kilpatrick turned the ball over on UC’s next time down the court, which led to Lamar Patterson finding Talib Zanna for a layup in the lane. Senior center Cheikh Mbodj was called for offensive three seconds on Cincinnati’s third possession and Zanna cleaned up a missed Tray Woodall three-point jumper to give Pittsburgh a 6-0 lead.

Cincinnati’s fundamental flaw was exposed early by Pittsburgh and it is that the Bearcats have three extremely talented guards but the team lacks a consistent scoring presence down low. Kilpatrick, Wright, and JaQuon Parker make up 57% of Cincinnati’s offense and make 87% of the Bearcats three-pointers. The Panthers started out in man-to-man defense before switching to zone. Pittsburgh kept Cincinnati’s guards out of the lane and the Bearcats struggled to feed the ball into the post in the first half. UC made just one of its first ten shots as Mick Cronin’s team struggled to get into an offensive rhythm. Pittsburgh freshman seven-foot center and preseason Big East Freshman of the Year Steven Adams contested Cincinnati’s short-range shot attempts and was a monster on the boards with nine rebounds.

Cincinnati’s pressure on defense and the Panthers’ 0-10 shooting performance from behind the arc kept the Bearcats in the game. Cincinnati forced seven turnovers in the first half against a Pittsburgh team that averaged roughly ten per game through its first 13 games of the season.

Cashmere Wright made the first three-pointer of the game with four minutes remaining in the first half and Cincinnati pulled within one point of Pittsburgh. The Bearcats took their first lead of the game when forward Shaquille Thomas grabbed the rebound off of his own miss and slammed it home for two points. The Panthers ended the half with an 8-0 run that gave them a 34-27 lead heading into halftime.

Cincinnati came out of halftime revitalized with defensive intensity and the Bearcats’ full court pressure disrupted Pittsburgh’s ability to run its offense.

A turning point in the game was when Steven Adams picked up his fourth foul with 9:42 remaining in the second half and Cincinnati leading by three. Even though he was scoreless in the game, Adams’ defensive presence and ability to rebound the basketball had been critical to Pittsburgh’s first half success.

Soon after University of Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon pulled Adams, Cashmere Wright hit a three that took the life out of the Panthers. The shot clock was winding down on Cincinnati and it appeared that the Bearcats were going to fall victim to a shot clock violation but Jermaine Sanders kicked the ball out to Wright just in time for him to nail a shot a few feet behind the arc and double UC’s lead.

With Adams on the bench, it was David Nyarsuk time. Nyarsuk is a 7’1”, 230 lb. center (the tallest player in the history of the University of Cincinnati men’s basketball program) who is originally from Juba, Sudan and transferred from Mountain State University in Beckley, W.Va.

With eight minutes left, Nyarsuk laid the ball off the glass for his first points of the game and he extended Cincinnati’s lead to seven points. Moments later, Titus Rubles assisted Nyarsuk as he banked in a jump shot to help the Bearcats pull away from Pittsburgh. While his scoring contributions were critical to Cincinnati’s lead at the end of the game, his offensive rebounding may have been his greatest asset because he allowed the Bearcats to take nearly one and a half minutes off the clock. David Nyarsuk finished with six points and three rebounds in what was a game-changing second half performance by the NAIA transfer.

Junior center David Nyarsuk's second half performance gave the Cincinnati Bearcats the boost on offense to complete their comeback against Pittsburgh. (Image courtesy of http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/bigeast/2012/12/31/no-14-cincinnati-slips-by-no-24-pittsburgh-70-61/1801145/)
Junior center David Nyarsuk’s second half performance gave the Cincinnati Bearcats the boost on offense to complete their comeback against Pittsburgh. (Image courtesy of http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/bigeast/2012/12/31/no-14-cincinnati-slips-by-no-24-pittsburgh-70-61/1801145/)

The Bearcats hit eight free throws in the final 70 seconds to cap off a second half in which Cincinnati outscored Pittsburgh by 17 points. Cincinnati improves to 13-1 and next face St. John’s at 4:00 pm ET at home on January 5th.  Pittsburgh drops to 12-2 and will face Rutgers at 11:00 am ET on January 5th at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.