Thursday, March 25, 2010

Degenerate Friday on Thursday! Sweet 16

Before we talk basketball, a quick reminder that you get what you pay for. My wife and I had received passes to a free screening of the new Dreamworks movie “How to Train A Dragon” in Times Square. Of course, they had given out too many passes, so after waiting in line for a while, we were told the theatre was full and we were out of luck. The guy behind me starts to complain loudly that he’s super annoyed, it’s not fair and they should do something to make up for it. The guy is a roughly 40 year old black man wearing glasses with yellow lenses, who is there by himself to see a childrens movie. And he’s complaining about how he’s being treated at a FREE screening. Really, dude? At the end of the day, what are you out – 20 minutes of your time? I’m pretty sure he would have spent that time creeping like he did on the Indian girls behind him he was eavesdropping on when he interrupted to ask them “Wait – are you having trouble getting laid? I find that hard to believe.” You stay classy, New York.

Before we get to the breakdown, I’m pretty sure I need a pep talk after the shellacking I took in the second round…….yup, this should do the trick.
Game 1: #1 Syracuse (-6) vs. #5 Butler

Everyone’s favorite sleeper team in the sweet 16 is Cornell, but the team that most resembles Hickory High from Hoosiers is actually Butler. Yes, Cornell has never advanced to this round before, and yes the Ivy League does not have the athletic budgets like the major conferences. However, these are kids in the Ivy League where they don’t give out athletic scholarships or allow people to take the SATs for their recruits (like John Calipari teams….alledgedly). Cornell is full of smart kids that likely have a decent future ahead of them due to an Ivy education. So they’re not really underdogs. Butler is in the middle of nowhere Indiana, in a small conference, and not known nationally academically. They are the true underdog story.

Unfortunately, this underdog story is going to end with the loveable dog getting hit by an orange bus speeding along to the next round. Syracuse has its own underdog angle, as they do not have a single McDonald’s All-American on their roster, which is practically unheard of for a national power. They are too long, too athletic and play a defense that will fluster the Bulldogs. Wes Johnson and the Orange are more than Shelvin Mack and the Bulldogs can handle. Butler has won 22 straight games, but even their two tournament wins were against other mid-major teams (UTEP & Murray State). Their first test against a major power in the tournament will not go well.

Gambler’s Special: Syracuse (-6)

Game 2: #2 West Virginia (-4.5) vs. #11 Washington

This could be the most competitive game of the night. West Virginia lost their starting point guard (his nickname was “Truck” – not exactly flattering for a point guard, right?) but they have a replacement in Joe Mazzulla who has started in the past. However, Mazzulla is not an offense threat at all, which will allow Washington to pay more attention to De’Sean Butler and the other offensive Mountaineers. In addition, Mazzulla will be the only primary ballhandler for the Mountaineers which will be difficult giving the pressure that the Washington guards will put on the ball.
Washington is talented and underperformed early in the year which knocked expectations down. They were ranked in the low teens in most preseason rankings, and fell out after a slow start. Look for Pondexter and Thomas to carry the Huskies to the Elite Eight. When the Mountaineers fall, it’s just another example of Bob Huggins underperforming in the tournament, which means we should probably expect his tournament performance to resemble Lindsay Lohan stumbling out of a club.

Gambler’s Special: Washington (+4.5)

Game #3: #2 Kansas State (-4.5) vs. #6 Xavier

This should be the most entertaining game of the night although it will probably draw the least interest. The second-most recognized team in the sunflower state versus a team that refuses to be lumped in with the mid-majors that is led by a guy that “dunked” on LeBron James. Not exactly riveting story lines for the media to jump on. Yet the guard play at Kansas State has been extremely strong in the tournament and they are playing with some serious swagger. In addition, they can lean on the fact that they handled Xavier comfortably earlier in the season. Kansas State is forcing their way into the conversation as a contender for the national title in the same way Miley Cyrus is forcing her way into the discussion about any pop culture as she sings, acts and suddenly shows up as a guest judge on American Idol.

Xavier is familiar with this round of the tournament as this is their third straight trip to the sweet sixteen (though first with their current coach), and has major conference talent in Jordan Crawford surrounded by strong play from Terrell Holloway and Jason Love. They will not be intimidated by the moment, which should allow them to keep it close until the closing moments.

I thought Kansas State would struggle early in the tournament because of the emotional highs of their coach and their point guard, but they have shown that those emotions can be harnessed. If they continue to play like they have, they have a great shot to get past the Musketeers and the Orange en route to the Final Four.

Gambler’s Special: Kansas State (-4.5)

Game #4: #1 Kentucky (-8) vs. #12 Cornell

The media is all over this game because it pits the lowest remaining seed against the highest remaining seed and a basketball powerhouse against an academic powerhouse. Also add in the rabid Kentucky fanbase against the large Cornell alumni network in New York and near ESPN’s Bristol headquarters and you get more hype than this game really deserves. Cornell is a great story about a bunch of nerds who are good basketball players that play the game really well and have advanced further than anyone predicted. Their run very closely resembles that of Davidson in 2008, where Davidson was a very disciplined team with one deadly scorer (Stephen Curry), and took advantage of beating solid, but not very athletic teams during their run (Gonzaga, Georgetown & Wisconsin) before they ran into Kansas.

This time around, Kentucky is that team that just has too much for Cornell to handle, with 3 potential first round draft picks. John Wall will be able to handle Louis Dale defensively, and should be able to blow by him on the offensive end. Eric Bledsoe has the ability to stay with Wittman if he maintains his discipline, and DeMarcus Cousins will expose Jeff Foote as the slow, plodding center that he is. Add to that the experience and ability of Patrick Patterson and this game may not be competitive.

All the analysts want to point out that if Cornell can keep the game close late into the game, the fact that the crowd will be pro-Cornell (close to campus in Ithaca, the NY alumni contingent driving up to Syracuse from NYC, and fans rooting for the underdog) may put tremendous pressure on the young Wildcats team. But keep in mind that the Kentucky players have played in major league atmospheres all season and have dealt with the stress and pressure of an SEC tournament. This is the biggest stage these Cornell kids have ever seen. And expecting them to stay close until the closing minutes is a very large task – like asking Mischa Barton to stay off drugs. Overall to quote Joe Biden, the talent gap between Kentucky and Cornell is a “big f—king deal.”

Gambler’s Special: Kentucky (-8)

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