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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.

Pre-selection show bracketology tips

The biggest moment of the college basketball season—Selection Sunday—is almost here. While basketball analysts argue over the No. 1 seeds and bubble teams in the final hour before the bracket is announced, here are a few tips to help you have success in your March Madness predictions.

  • Don’t go all “chalk”—Only once, in 2008, did all four No. 1 seeds make the Final Four. With all of the attention focused on the top teams and their respective regions, it is very tempting to lean towards going chalk—choosing the better seed—but stay strong and resist the temptation. Only 14 No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four in the past decade and there were no top seeds in both 2006 and 2011.
  • Don’t pick Gonzaga to advance past the Sweet Sixteen—The Bulldogs are a staple for the NCAA Tournament after making it every season since 1999 but they only one Elite Eight appearance in that span. While Gonzaga has never been a No. 1 seed, the Zags lost in the Round of 32 as a No. 2 and No. 3 seed in 2004 and 2005. The Bulldogs have proven that they can make the Sweet Sixteen, with five appearances since ’99, they have struggled to make a deep run in March.
  • Expect Georgetown to be upset—In the past three seasons, the Hoyas are 1-3 in the NCAA Tournament and were eliminated by No. 11 North Carolina State, No. 11 VCU and No. 14 Ohio. While Georgetown will likely by a No. 2 seed, they don’t have a good recent track record in March.
  • Pick at least one No. 12 seed to upset a No. 5 seed—No. 12 seeds upset No. 5 seeds in 34 percent of the matchups and at 12 seed has defeated a 5 seed in 11 of the past 12 years. Keep in mind that No. 12 seeds have a winning record in Round of 32.
  • Don’t overthink the 8/9 and 7/10 matchups—The differences between these middle seeds are small. Flip a coin, choose the team with the longer name or simply go with your gut because anything can happen in these first round matchups.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Week 1 of College Football

The Good

  • Devin Smith’s one-handed touchdown grab to take a 7-3 lead over Miami. With 13:49 left in the second quarter, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller lobbed a throw to the corner of the end zone and Devin Smith may have made the catch of the year in the first week of the season.

  • Indiana Hoosiers match their win total from last season. IU only had one win last season and it came against South Carolina State, who isn’t even an FBS school. In Kevin Wilson’s second year as head coach of the Hoosiers, Indiana won their season opener over Indiana State 24-17 after batting down ISU’s hail mary to the end zone as the clock ran out.

  • Sam Durley breaks the NCAA single-game passing record. Eureka College quarterback Sam Durley threw for 736 yards while completing 34 of 52 pass attempts against Knox College. While Eureka is only a Division III school, 736 yards is very impressive and the best part is that the record-breaking throw was also the winning play.
  • Le’Veon Bell of Michigan State. Bell was an absolute workhouse in #13 Michigan State’s win against #24 Boise State. He accumulated 210 yards on 44 carries and scored twice on the ground in a 17-13 victory. To carry the ball that many times, to average nearly five yards per carry, and to not fumble the ball is a praiseworthy effort for the breakout star running back.
  • Geno Smith of West Virginia. Smith made an early case for his name to be in consideration for the Heisman Trophy in West Virginia’s season opener against rival Marshall. The quarterback was nearly perfect through the air–completing 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards and four scores. He was also effective on the ground, rushing eight times for sixty-five yards and one touchdown.
Courtesy of http://nfldraftmonsters.com/scouting/scouting-report-geno-smith/
  • Ohio University upsetting Penn State. It was the first game of the Bill O’Brien Era. The Penn State players had their names on the backs of their jerseys for the first time in school history. And Ohio scored twenty-one unanswered points to come from behind and beat the Nittany Lions 24-14. OU quarterback Tyler Tettleton completed 31 of 41 pass attempts for 324 yards and two touchdowns as the Bobcats went in to Penn State and defeated their Big Ten opponent.
  • Braxton Miller against Miami (OH). The Buckeyes’ sophomore quarterback had a great start to his season and showed his potential as a dual-threat QB. He was 14-24 passing the ball, broke the 200-yard mark, and had two passing touchdowns in addition to his 161 rushing yards and rushing touchdown against Miami.
  • Alabama dominates Michigan. As much as it hurts me to say this, Big Ten football doesn’t deserve to be in the same sentence as SEC football. The highest ranked team in the SEC beat the highest ranked team in the Big Ten 41-14. Denard Robinson, a potential Heisman candidate, completed only 11 of his 26 passes and was picked off twice, one of which was a pick six. The Wolverines’ rushing attack was absolutely dismal. They racked up only 69 yards on 29 attempts. In fact, Alabama had put the game away by the end of the first quarter, when they lead 21-0.

The Bad

  • Bowling Green State University’s ten yard punt that allowed Florida to kick a field goal to take a 17-14 lead. In what could have been a huge upset, the Bowling Green State Falcons did their best to lose on the road against Florida. In the middle of the third quarter with the score tied, BGSU punter Brian Schmiedebusch punted the ball out of bounds at the Falcons’ eighteen yard line. Their defense kept Florida out of the end zone but still surrendered a field goal. Bowling Green’s kicking woes were not limited to their punter. Kicker Stephen Stein missed two field goals less than forty yards out.
Courtesy of http://www.mac-sports.com/News/tabid/969/Article/158141/Schmiedebusch-Named-To-Ray-Guy-Award-Watch-List.aspx

The Ugly

  • Kent State’s special teams woes. Kent State linebacker Andre Parker recovered a fumble that was muffed by Towson’s punt returner. Parker was seven yards away from scoring a touchdown but instead, ran the wrong way and made it further than where Kent State punted the ball from initially. As funny as the play was, it was embarrassing to see his teammates blocking for him as well as Towson players running after him and finally tackling him when it would have been a safety if he made it all the way back to his own end zone.

From the Press Box–April 4th, 2012

After an extended leave of absence from writing, due to finals, college visits, and scholarship applications, I’m finally on Spring Break. So much has happened since my last post on March 18th, both for me personally and in the world of sports. I finally experienced world renound Chicago-style pizza at Giordano’s, was accepted to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and had a great campus visit (followed by being notified in the mail that the first year in Evanston would be upwards of $60,000 and I lost any interest I had in the school), officially became a second semester senior, and most importantly, decided on Indiana University for college and can not be happier about it. A month’s worth of sports headlines have taken place in the past eighteen days; the Major League Baseball season officially kicked off in Asia, the Kentucky Wildcats won their eighth national championship, Nike released the new NFL uniforms, and Mohammed El Akkari, an International Basketball Federation player for Moutahed of Tripoli, allegedly scored 113 points in a single game.

March Madness

Going into the NCAA Tourney, UK was clearly the best team in the country and I picked them to win the National Championship, yet it was so difficult to choose the Wildcats because of the reservations I had about them. Coach Cal had choked in his previous appearance in the title game as well as Kentucky was relying on freshmen and sophomores to not crack under the pressure riding on them to win it all. Not to mention that UK entered the NCAA Tournament on a one-game losing streak after being defeated by Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship.

Coach Calipari and the University of Kentucky needed the National Championship to validate their one-and-done focused program. In each of Cal’s previous six seasons, going back to his tenure at Memphis, his worst postseason finish was in the Sweet Sixteen. His teams were eliminated three times in the Elite Eight, once in the Final Four, and once in the National Championsip in 2008 (Memphis later had its entire 2007-2008 season vacated due to Derrick Rose’s misconduct regarding his false SAT score). If he had fallen to Kansas, many of his critics would question his ability to close out a season. No one can argue his greatness from November through February, but if UK would have lost in the NCAA Tourney a part of Big Blue Nation would have been ready to show him the door out of Lexington.

Overall, this was an ideal tournament for college basketball. There were some major upsets, with #2 seeds Duke and Missouri exiting in the first round, and three double-digit seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but no “Cinderellas” made it to the Elite Eight. It was exciting to watch the likes of Xavier, Ohio, and North Carolina State challenge major powers in college basketball, but at the end of the day, the best matchups are between the premier teams. The 2011 National Championship between UConn and Butler may have been the ugliest college basketball game I’ve ever seen. Upset-minded md-majors and Cinderellas can make the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament two of the best weeks of the year, but once the Final Four rolls around, basketball powerhouses are the only teams who can guarantee high-quality basketball that is enjoyable to watch.

Jared Sullinger to the NBA

I can’t argue with his decision to leave because there is a direct correlation between the number of years of college and when a prospect is drafted. Sully has nothing left to prove in college. He’s averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds for his two years of college, with a shooting percentage above 50%. He has lead Ohio State to the Elite Eight and Final Four in consecutive years and the Buckeyes have sixty-four wins in that time span. However, don’t expect him to be dominant in the NBA as he is in college. While he is physically big at 6’9″ and 265 lbs., he lacks the height and the jumping ability to average a double-double immediately at the next level. If he can develop a consistent outside jumper, he can become a very nice role player. He shares the size and stature of Indiana Pacers forward David West, who has career averages of sixteen points per game and seven rebounds per game. The longer he stayed at OSU, the more NBA teams would begin to see him plateau at the college level and it could only hurt his draft prospects.

Joe Flacco Thinks He’s the Best QB in the NFL

On WNST 1570 in Baltimore earlier this week, Joe Flacco said that he believes he is the best quarterback in the NFL. I have no problem with him thinking this. If I were an NFL owner or coach, I want a QB who thinks that he is the best every single snap. However, his thoughts about how he stacks up compared to the rest of the starting quarterbacks in the league should not leave a four inch radius in his brain. He is only opening himself up to more criticism than he already deserves and his resumé does not warrant him being a top five quarterback, let alone the best one in the NFL. Last season he threw for 3,610 yards and 20 touchdowns while Aaron Rodgers threw for 4,643 and 45, Eli Manning threw for 4,933 and 29, and Tom Brady threw for 5,235 and 39, to name a few of the league’s elite quarterbacks. Of course, statistics alone do not define a player and Flacco’s two AFC Championship Games help his case but still not enough. If I rank all of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL, he is thirteenth on my list. Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, Aaron Rodgers has one, Tom Brady has three, Ben Roethlisberger has two, Peyton Manning has one, and Drew Brees has one. Until Flacco gets some jewelry on his hand, he is not in the conversation and should be careful about publicizing questionable statements.

Ubaldo Jimenez Beans Troy Tulowiztki

The pitch was by all means intentional, especially considering the bitter feelings Jimenez has towards his former club. It’s a shame that he was willing to plunk Tulo in the preseason. He deserves his five-game suspension, but he still may be able to make his scheduled start if the MLB hasn’t responded to his appeal in time. Hopefully Jimenez does not start for the Indians if they face the Rockies this season because there is a high likelihood that Colorado would get revenge in some form or fashion.

FIBA Player Drops 113?

It is highly unlikely that a story like this could be completely fabricated but part of me is still skeptical. Mohammad El Akkari averaged just under eight points per game heading into his three-point shooting contest that happened to occur in the middle of the Lebanese Division A League Final Eight game. Maybe it’s that basketball overseas is different than what we’re accustomed to in the NBA and there were 314 total points in the game, but Akkari’s performance is out of the ordinary by all means. There are only three players in the modern era of the NBA who I could rationalize their taking of sixty-nine shots in a game–Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Monta Ellis. To make 40 of 69 shots from the floor and 32 of 59 from behind the arc is beyond comprehension. I’m not sure who his team was playing that night, possibly a team of local nuns or fifth-grade rec basketball team, but his performance goes down in history nontheless.

Joey Votto’s Contract

It is great to see that the Cincinnati Reds are committed to winning and have a “World Series or Bust” mentality. However, the 10-year, $225 million dollar contract should raise an eyebrow. The Reds have no idea how good Votto will be in ten years, but if the first baseman can lead Cincy to a World Series, then it won’t matter as much. The 2010 N.L. MVP’s price tag makes it difficult to re-sign second baseman Brandon Phillips, which is very hard to swallow since Phillips is one of the best Reds on and off of the field. The contract extension tops off the biggest offseason in Cincinnati Reds history and is a great way to kick off the season with their best player under contract until 2023.

Mo Egger Interview

I got the chance to interview sports talk show host Mo Egger of ESPN 1530 tonight and it was fascinating listening to him talk about his career and Cincinnati sports. The interview will takes lots of editing but should be posted in the next week.

Matchup of the Day

St. Louis Cardinals @ Miami Marlins. Tonight’s game is Opening Day in America since the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners played in Japan last week and also is the first game played in Miami’s new stadium. Two excellent pitchers in Kyle Lohse and Josh Johnson face off in the National League matchup.

Video of the Day

Courtesy of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBMQ79NweQU

The Year of the Upset

At the start of the NCAA Tournament Thursday afternoon, it seemed that there would be very few upsets. The first nine games went the way of “chalk,” meaning that the lower, favorited seed won. March became a little madder when VCU followed up its Final Four appearance in 2011 by upsetting the #5 seed Wichita State by three points. In the final matchup of the opening day of the tourney, Colorado set the tone for Friday’s games by shocking the UNLV Running Rebels, #6 seed and #25 overall in the AP poll. As a whole, the number of upsets was surprisingly small. On average, there are eight upsets in the round of 64 based on the seed, putting this year’s tournament to fill only half of the “quota.”

After all the games are finished for the second round, there were eight upsets on Friday, including two #15  seeds beating #2 seeds. North Carolina State, who finished 22-12 and fifth place in the ACC, trumped #6 San Diego State 79-65. The game was close at halftime, with the Wolfpack leading by four points, but NC State took over in the second half, led by Richard Howell’s twenty-two points.

Courtesy of http://espn.go.com/blog/collegebasketballnation/tag/_/name/2012-columbus-region

Entering the 2012 edition of the NCAA Tournament, #15 seeds were 4-104 all-time against #2 seeds. That’s an average of one every 27 years. In historic fashion, two #2 seeds fell on Friday to their higher-ranked opponents. The Missouri Tigers were a trendy favorite to represent the West region in the Final Four. Mizzou was 30-4 in the regular season and won the Big 12 Tournament by defeating Baylor handily in the championship game. Three of their four losses were to ranked opponents and tournament teams, proving to be a tough out all season. In its first NCAA Tournament appearance, the Norfolk State Spartans shocked the basketball world by upsetting Mizzou 86-84 thanks to a great shooting performance. Three Spartans had at least twenty points and the team shot 54% from the floor. Missouri fought back at the end of the game and had a three-point attempt at the buzzer but it clanked off the rim and Norfolk State completed to unexpected upset. What made the night even more unpredictable was when Lehigh came back from being down by two at halftime to stun Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils. Led by junior guard C.J. McCollum, who scored thirty points, grabbed six rebounds, and had six assists, the Mountain Hawks go on to play Xavier.

Courtesy of http://www.silive.com/sports/index.ssf/2012/03/a_pair_of_no_2s_out_of_ncaa_to.html

While a #9 seed beating a #8 is not usually considered an upset, Saint Louis beat Memphis behind Kwamain Mitchell’s 22 points. Robbie Hummell and the Purdue Boilermakers narrowly beat St. Mary’s 72-69. Two years ago, the Ohio Bobcats as a #14 seed stunned the Georgetown Hoyas in the first round. Some of those same players are on the current squad that upset #4 Michigan 65-60. In the final games of the night, South Florida handed Temple a fourteen-point loss to be the second twelve seed this year to upset a five seed. Lastly, Xavier rallied to overcome a ten point deficit to beat Notre Dame after a bad lane violation call nullified a Fighting Irish one-and-one.

At this rate, this will be the craziest March Madness in the history of the tournament. Almost every game is down to the wire and anyone can beat anyone else. While Kentucky is playing at a higher level than every other team in the field, it is a toss-up for the matchups in the round of 32. If you ignore that seeds of the teams and compare them without a bias, there is very little separating the teams who remain in the tournament.

Courtesy of http://msn.foxsports.com/collegebasketball/story/Xavier-Musketeers-beat-Vanderbilt-Commodores-in-overtime-112811

Out of the remaining teams who upset a lower-ranked seed, I predict Xavier, VCU, and South Florida to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Out of the 32 teams left in the field, Xavier, South Florida, and Murray State have the best chances to make it to the Elite Eight. Although, no matter who wins, I think everyone can agree that this has been the greatest opening weekend of the tournament we have ever seen and it can only get better from here.