Four Elite 8 games over the next two days and baseball’s Opening Day the day after that. I’m relaxing on Spring Break and ready to watch it all, so I’ll be dropping in periodically over the next 55 hours or so (up through the Phils-Braves game) with some thoughts.
4:32: Syracuse and Marquette to kick things off from our nation’s capital. This tournament started off in embarrassing fashion for the soon-to-be-dead Big East. Georgetown beat by FGCU, Notre Dame blown out by Iowa St., Pitt blown out by Wichita St. But here we are with three Big East teams in the final eight.
Funny though, because all three of the teams will be in separate conferences next season (Louisville will remain in the “old” Big East for one year before joining Cuse in the ACC).
4:40: Interesting (to me, at least) that Syracuse was a five-point favorite coming into this game. Marquette finished three games ahead of them in the Big East, beat them (in a close game at Marquette) in late February, and is obviously playing well at the moment. I know Syracuse has been more impressive in the tournament so far, and advanced to the Big East tourney title game, but I don’t see why they should be more than a two-point favorite. Smart money is grabbing those five points, I’d say.
5:02: Brandon Triche is similar to Khalif Wyatt. For a high-level, DI guard, he has almost no quickness or burst, but he knows how to use his body, how to find seems, and can make an open three. We’ve seen a bunch of games in this tournament where one team just can’t score in the 1st half and posts 15 or 17 points. Marquette looks headed for that. They obviously have seen this zone before, but the Orange are playing it perfectly so far.
5:13: When facing Cuse’s 2-3 zone, it’s so important to have a big guy that can camp out at the free throw line, catch it in the middle of the zone, and then make an entry pass or knock down a jump shot. It looks like Davante Gardner might be able to fill that role. If nothing else, his two jump shots and an assist will force Cuse to collapse in on that gap and leave them exposed in other places. Great development for the Eagles.
5:14: And just as I post that, he makes another and Mr. Verne Lundquist points out that he was 7-7 when they beat Cuse in February. The Orange better find an answer. 21-18 Syracuse.
5:54: Some coaching questions for both of these programs going forward. How much longer will Boeheim coach? His longtime top assistant, Mike Hopkins, is said to be a top candidate for USC. Will he stick around to be Boeheim’s successor? For Marquette, Buzz Williams is becoming one of the most respected young coaches in the game. He’s only 40. It seems like he’s there for now, but the Texas native could maybe be tempted if Rick Barnes ever exits from UT. Other jobs in that area, like Baylor, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma St., could also appeal to him down the road.
6:16: 8 minutes left, Marquette down 11. If they don’t make a little run very soon, they’ll be entering “need a miracle” territory. Cuse has really been in control this whole game, but so was Kansas last night, and they went home. Let’s see if Carter-Williams can keep everything under control and take his team to the Final 4.
6:39: Can’t say I root for Syracuse, but regardless, they’re back in the Final Four for the 9th time, and final time as a Big East member. If they win it all, does Boeheim hang it up? Probably not. Another strong year from Marquette.
7:10: Wichita St. and Ohio St. up next, playing in LA. I may have missed a lot of predictions for Conference Players of the Year at the beginning of this month, but I did say this when talking about the MVC and Wichita St.: “They have two forwards, Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who’s names you just may hear in March.” And here they are in the Elite 8. It’s a cliche to say it at this point, but Wichita may be in a “mid-major” but they have major conference talent, for sure. Ohio St. is and should be the favorite, but this is either team’s game to win.
7:22: Deshaun Thomas has been the ONLY reliable scorer for Ohio St. this whole year. If you’re going to have only one guy that can put it in the bucket, he’s definitely one of the best to have. He can score in every way possible. He’s off to an 0-5 start, but with two other threes hit, the Buckeyes are only down 1. Also, LaQuinton Ross has emerged as that second scoring option in this tournament. He comes off the bench, so we’ll see if he still has the hot hand.
7:39: Thinking back to that Syracuse game, you can see some parallels to their championship team of ten years ago. They’ve had some years since then where they were ranked #1 in the country and a couple where they were a #1 seed, but didn’t make it past the Sweet 16. In ’03 they were a 3-seed, this year a 4-seed. They really outclassed a very good Marquette team today, and maybe they’ll pull it off again ten years later. I can’t compare Carmelo to Carter-Williams, but he is the best player on the team, and a guy that was buried on their bench for most of last year, so it’s really his first year getting any minutes for them, just as it was Carmelo’s first year. Ok, maybe reaching a bit there. Give me a break, it’s a live blog.
7:43: Headline writers everywhere get excited as the Shockers go up by 10 after back-to-back threes. This just looks like the team we’ve been watching all tournament. Ohio St. has veteran leadership with Thomas and Aaron Craft. This hole won’t faze them, but it’s obviously a great start for Wichita.
8:11: All credit to Wichita, but yet another game where we see a team that just can’t score. Thomas is 4-13, Craft is 1-6, Ross is 1-5. Ugly half for the Buckeyes.
8:52: Domination by the Shockers! Not the best day of ball, it appears.
9:16: Deshaun Thomas: “It’s not over yet!” WSU by 10 with 4 to play, but will the pressure of the big stage and the bright lights of Hollywood get to the Shockers here? And, even if it does, can the Buckeyes just get the ball in the hoop enough times for it to matter?
9:29: What a great comeback by OSU. Still down 4, but impressive even if they fall short. What a clutch three hit by Cotton of WSU just now.
9:50: The Cinderella baton has been passed from FGCU to Wichita St. Impressive run by them. Let the speculation of Greg Marshall’s coaching future begin. Deshaun Thomas is probably off to the League, and Craft will be back for one more go ’round in Columbus. Back tomorrow for the next two games!
2:05: Louisville-Duke is clearly THE game of the day, but this Florida-Michigan game is pretty awesome, as well. Yes, L’ville-Duke is a 1 seed vs. 2 seed (vs. a 3-4 in the other game), it has the favorite and one of the teams in the small pack of accepted contenders (while very few have picked Florida or Michigan to win it all), and it has two sure-fire Hall of Fame coaches squaring off in the tourney for the first time since the Laettner Shot of ’92.
But Michigan was also ranked #1 at one point this year, and they have a leading candidate for National Player of the Year, in PG Trey Burke. Meanwhile, many computer efficiency metrics have had Florida as the CLEAR top team in the country for virtually the entire season. It should shock no one to see either of these teams cut down the nets in Atlanta next week.
The game is a classic contrast of styles, but not what you may think for a Big Ten vs. SEC matchup. The Big Ten team is actually the one loaded with athletes that want to get up and down the court. The SEC team wants to force the Wolverines to execute in the halfcourt and keep the tempo slow. It’s a very young Michigan team vs. a veteran Florida team. Should be a good one.
2:42: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: one team just cannot score here, as Florida has all of 5 points nearly a quarter of the way into the game. It doesn’t much matter if you’re controlling tempo if you can’t make a shot.
3:21: In the month of December, Nik Stauskas was making close to 4 3′s a game, and shooting over 50% on those attempts. And nobody beat them. He hasn’t been quite the same since, making a total of three 3′s in the first three games of this tournament. He’s 5-5 from there in the 1st half, has 19 points, and that’s obviously a huge reason why the Wolverines just put 47 points in the first half against one of the best defensive teams in the country.
3:58: Florida was keeping themselves within striking distance, but that burst by Michigan to go back up by 20 with 10 minutes to play has pretty much put this one to bed. The Wolverines have had all the answers in this one.
4:04: Michigan’s two leading scorers (Burke and Hardaway) are combined 8-28 from the field, and they lead Florida by 19 with 6 minutes left. That’s pretty scary.
4:22: Well, in my bracket pool, 15 of the 16 entries are now 0-3 on Final 4 picks. One person had Michigan.
4:40: No live blogging for the Duke game. As it may be the last Duke game where I live in here in Durham, I’m heading out into the world to see the game at a local establishment.
8:52 AM: Opening Day! Well, sort of. For some reason, MLB decided to kick off the season last night with a game in Houston? Was that something the Astros demanded before agreeing to go to the AL? Anyway, in a classic show of the old phrase “hope springs eternal” (see #11 in MLB preview below), the Astros, a team that many are predicting will be one of the worst in baseball history, soundly beat a good Rangers team in the first game of the 2013 season.
Before we turn our sights to the diamond, some last thoughts on the Elite 8. SI’s Luke Winn wrote a good piece on the Louisville-Duke game. The Kevin Ware injury overshadowed another dominant Cardinals performance. They look no less impressive, coming in as the favorite and rolling to the Final 4, than Kentucky did at this point a year ago.
I get that it was cool that Kevin Ware told the team to “go win the game” and, yeah, maybe he would’ve left without saying anything to them, but what was he supposed to say, “Hey guys, I’m hurt so everybody into the locker room, get on the plane, head home, season’s over,” or “You know, finish out the game and everything, but keep in mind that this injury shows that winning isn’t everything so don’t worry about beating Duke, just play pretty hard and don’t hurt yourselves.”
11:06 AM: For all of you out there overly worried about the Phillies, here’s some interesting things coming in from the today’s lineups that are being released. Vance Worley is the Opening Day starter for the Twins. Nate Schierholtz is batting 5th for the Cubs. Ben Francisco is the DH and batting 6th for a little club called the New York Yankees. Things aren’t so bad for us, huh?
12:59: There may have been a game last night, but the real start of the season has to be a day game, and it’s about to come from Yankee Stadium in a couple minutes. This may be the NEW Yankee Stadium and the Yankees and Red Sox may finish last and second-to-last in their division this year, but I’ve definitely been successfully brainwashed by the East Coast-biased media to think this is game is a big deal. But, my god, it’s shocking how unimpressive both of these lineups are.
1:14: Victorino vs. Sabathia, and ESPN doesn’t even show the grand slam he hit off him when Sabathia was with the Brewers in the ’08 playoffs. Jerks. Here you go, readers: http://tandem.wordpress.com/2008/10/03/video-victorino-hits-grand-slam-off-sabathia-nlds-game-2-10208/
1:45: The announcers talked about it a lot, but that was an incredibly impressive walk by Jackie Bradley. As a lefty against Sabathia, to lay off two of those sliders and foul one off with two strikes, in his first ever career at-bat, in Yankee Stadium on Opening Day. Just impressive. And his reputation is a guy with that plate discipline that will hit for a high average. Then Victorino comes up with the bases loaded and they STILL don’t show the highlight of his grand slam in ’08! Ridiculous.
2:01: Good God. Bryce Harper has 2 home runs in 2 at-bats.
3:41: Phils lineup for tonight has been announced: Revere 8, Rollins 6, Utley 4, Howard 3, Young 5, Brown 7, Mayberry 9, Kratz 2, Hamels 1 vs. the veteran righty Tim Hudson. Big story is Revere leading off and not Rollins. Not a big surprise, but it wasn’t clear if Rollins would be staying at the top or not. Also, slightly surprising that Mayberry gets the nod in right over Laynce Nix, but also not a big shock.
7:51: I had to laugh as that Freddie Freeman 2-run homer went over the wall, picturing all the people all over the Delaware Valley that were groaning and saying, “Well, that’s how this season’s gonna go. Time to get rid of everybody.” Can’t wait to move back, haha.
8:01: Saw Ben Revere a couple times this spring, and he had a lot of base knocks and a lot of stolen bases. As the numbers suggest, he really is a young Juan Pierre offensively. Haven’t seen him flash the leather much yet, but apparently that’s in his arsenal, as well.
8:12: Cole just doesn’t have his command tonight. Not a big deal. He’ll have 30-some more starts and there’s no reason to worry about him. The Braves have even missed a couple mistake pitches.
8:28: Obviously, great to see Utley smack a high fastball over the wall in dead center. Target stats for him this year should be clearing 20 homers and a .370 OBP. That’s what we need if he’s gonna stay in the 3-hole.
8:50: Alright, alright. A lot of nice things here in this inning. Revere works an 11-pitch walk, J-Roll rips a nice single, Utley delivers the big 2-run hit, J-Roll with the nice baserunning, getting to third on the play. Utley seems to be seeing the ball well. Now the Big Piece gets his first lefty of the year.
10:15: A lot of positive things from the offense in this one. Hamels had an off-game and Chad Durbin struggled in his return to the team. Game 1 in the books, 161 to go. Baseball is back, spring is here, and this 2.5 day live blog is complete.