Indiana Bound

For the first time in six years, Duke is back where it belongs: in the Final Four. After gritty wins against Purdue and Baylor this past weekend, the Devils will be heading to Indianapolis next weekend to face West Virginia in the national semifinals.

While it seems like familiar territory for Coach K, it is just the opposite for each one of the players on this Duke team. None had ever gone past the Sweet Sixteen until this year. Despite being the most maligned number one seed in the tournament, Duke was the only top seed to earn a trip to Indianapolis.

Let’s be honest here. Who would have thought at the beginning of this season that we would be going to the Final Four? We had two scholarship guards on the roster. Our big men were unproven. We had too short of a bench. The Olympics had jaded Coach K, and the game had passed him by. Hell, Pat Forde wrote that Duke was the only top ten team in the country that could not win it all.

But all of that makes this team and this tournament that much more incredible. While this team is not devoid of stars, it excels at playing team basketball. On a night when Kyle Singler failed to make a field goal – for the first time in his three years at Duke – the rest of the team more than made up for him. The King of Jersey, Lance Thomas had an absurd eight offensive rebounds and a tip dunk and-one that was the best play of his four year career. Dre’ Dawk joined the party with two beautiful three-pointers at a crucial juncture in the first half, including a deep shot that cut the halftime deficit to three. Jon Scheyer, who had not shot well at all thus far in the tournament, came up huge with five three pointers and 20 points.

But most impressive was the performance of a Nolan Derek Smith, who had the most phenomenal game of his college career when Duke needed him the most. At around 2:30 pm yesterday, Nolan posted an update to his Twitter account that brought tears to my eyes.

After watching a screening of the Outside The Lines feature on Nolan and his father, former NBA star Derek Smith, on Saturday morning, Nolan dedicated what was arguably the biggest game of his life to his greatest inspiration. And boy, did he deliver. With a game and career high 29 points, all of which came at critical moments throughout the game, Nolan earned South Regional MVP honors and certainly made his father more than proud.

We all know that this journey is not yet over. Duke will face a very tough West Virginia squad on Saturday night. But for now, Crazies, enjoy this moment. This has been the most enjoyable and incredible season I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never been prouder to be a Duke Blue Devil.

As the team returned from Houston at approximately 1:30am last night, hundreds of Crazies welcomed the Final Four bound Devils back home. Check it out.

Crazie Talk will be headed to Indianapolis on Friday! If you’ll be there, let us know on Facebook, or Twitter!

A Historic Day?

I realized this morning where Duke stands going into today’s 5 o’clock tilt with Baylor. On the verge of the program’s first Final Four since 2004. Coach K’s eleventh trip to the promised land in his legendary career. An opportunity for our seniors to reach the climax of their careers on college basketball’s biggest stage.

But the most important aspect may be abstract and intangible, a feeling rather than a statistic. A trip to Indianapolis would redeem the trend of March heartbreak, and silence all the doubters who questioned Duke’s placement in the weak South region.

The experts and pundits question Duke’s ability to handle an athletic and hungry Baylor team, whose first NCAA tournament appearance has been a fantastic success. Moreover, we’re playing them on their turf: Waco, Texas is just four hours from Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Baylor demolished the upstart St. Mary’s Gaels—they look comfortable on that weird raised floor.

This game will not be easy, but we have been building to this moment for four years, ever since LSU’s Garrett Temple shut down JJ Redick and crushed Duke’s hopes of a 2006 title run.

Laettner’s shot eighteen years ago sent Duke to a “-polis” (Minneapolis) which resulted in our second straight national title. Will Duke require more heroics to make it to Indy? Hope not. Let’s put down the Bears and get ready to take care of business in Indy.

Weighing In: Tournament Swagger

After two dominating performances in the first and second rounds, Duke has countered the doubters and proven its merit as one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis. Before we face off with Purdue on Friday, Jake, Chong and guest-author Arun reflect on three things the team has done to get this far—and that will help push us to our eleventh Final Four appearance.

Chong- Interior Passing

Much has been made this season about the emergence of Duke’s big men as a key difference with this year’s Blue Devil squad.  Yes, Brian Zoubek has finally developed an offensive game that can complement his rebounding skill.  Yes, Lance Thomas actually isn’t triple-pumping every (missed) lay-up.  Through all of this, though, what really strikes me as the difference in our inside game is the improvement in interior passing.   Though this doesn’t apply to the Plumlee brothers, it’s no secret that Duke’s starting big men aren’t the most athletic players in the country.  Thus, it’s unreasonable to expect to just feed Lance in the paint and expect him to put the dream shake on Jajuan Johnson or Demarcus Cousins (too bad we don’t have Travis Leslie, right?).   Over the past month and a half, we’ve begun to see more pick and rolls, oftentimes culminating in a Zoubek layup off a Scheyer assist.   We’ve also noticed better passing coming from all our big men, but particularly from Lance.

If Duke wants to make a serious run for the championship, this crew is going to have to continue making crisp passes within 15 feet of the basket.  This way, we not only use our size to score, we also use it to physically wear down the opponent.  The efficiency of our interior passing, my friends, is why we’ve been able to utilize our big men in such a productive fashion, all while relying less and less on the three-point shot.

Jake“Team” Defense

Jon and Zoubs team up for the blocked shot. Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com.

The numbers speak for themselves. Duke has allowed a combined 97 points in the first two rounds: 44 to Arkansas Pine-Bluff and 53 to California. OK, so maybe the Pine-Bluff game isn’t that big of a feat (although no disrespect to the SWAC). But the Berkeley Boys were a dynamic offensive team before meeting Duke in the second round—it was the first time the Golden Bears had failed to score 60 points all season. Like Duke, Cal boasted a ‘terrific trio’ of guards—Theo Robertson, Patrick Christopher, and Cal’s all-time leading scorer, Jerome Randle. But they were stymied. Christopher, who missed the first several minutes with a cut, never got into the flow of the game, mustering just 2 points. Randle got free in the first half for several layups (thanks to some illegal picks from the linebacker-esque Markhuri Sanders-Frison). After seeing him hit a 30-footer at the halftime buzzer of Cal’s win over Louisville, many Duke fans worried that Randle would go off Eric Maynor style in the second round. But as ESPN regional blogger Brad Bennett wrote, Nolan Smith got angry and locked Randle down. (Ironically, former Dukie Jamal Boykin was Cal’s best offensive player Sunday—can we take a little credit for that? OK maybe not). Duke Chronicle columnist Alex Fanaroff compared our defensive performance to a boa constrictor, slowly leaking the life out Cal with a dominant rebounding performance. That’s an apt metaphor, and one that must continue to apply. We have three great scorers on this team, but our 9 man rotation will provide the extra defensive oomph all the way to Indy.

Arun – Free of the Three?

The "Four Pillars'" presence in the paint has had a huge impact on Duke's offensive and defensive effectiveness. Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com.

Live by the three, die by the three. Since the days of Redick, it’s been the trademark phrase for Duke lovers and haters alike. And for good reason. In the past, when Duke’s guards didn’t make it rain from the beyond the arc, the Devils’ demise was soon to follow. All too often, a drought from the three point line spelled defeat for the Devils in the most crucial of games. (See: Villanova, 2009). The story has been different this year, especially for those games on the biggest stages. (See: California, last week). Still, having success without making the long ball doesn’t mean Duke hasn’t been attempting it. Last week against Cal, Duke shot an abysmal 3-17 from three (1-8 and 1-6 from Scheyer and Singler respectively) and yet still managed to cruise to a comfortable, double digit win. The quantity of shots hasn’t changed. Neither has the quality, even though it seems like wide open shots haven’t gone in as of late.

So what’s different? The answer doesn’t lie with shot selection, but instead with Duke’s personnel. It’s no secret that Duke’s four major frontcourt pillars have given us an edge this year in an area where we haven’t recently had it: offensive rebounding. With leapers like the Plumlee bros, a lanky workhorse in Lance Thomas, and a space eating monster in Zoubek, this year’s team excels in cleaning up the mess after missed three point shots. Miles and Brian in particular have improved their board-grabbing abilities from last season, and Zoubs has emerged as arguably the best offensive rebounder in the nation. More offensive boards have led to more second chance opportunities and easy points (oh, and some nasty tip-dunks too).

Duke’s not free of the three just yet—the long range jumper is still an integral part of our offense. But this year, having excellent rebounders down low can give our shooters some peace of mind. Peace of mind translates into shooting confidence. And confidence translates into buckets.

OK, so we’re feeling pretty good here on the blog. Back us up, Duke! See you tomorrow with a preview of the regional weekend. First up? Purdue.

March Madness Day 3 and 4: Cinderella Still Dancing

If you are a college basketball fan, this is the time of year that you live for. There is nothing else like March Madness, something that is especially true this year. What a weekend of games we witnessed: we saw the championship aspirations of  the heavy favorites go down in flames and the Sweet Sixteen field now littered with double-digit seeds. We saw dramatics, late-game heroics, more buzzer-beaters and action that left you on the edge of your seat. Let’s rundown the action from this weekend with second-round thoughts and musings.

It’s Not Midnight Yet

The theme of this year’s tournament thus far has got to be something along the lines of “expect the unexpected.” There is no set definition for a Cinderella team, but double-digit seeds fit the profile. Last year, all 4 of the 1, 2, and 3 seeds made the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in history. Yawn. Talk about top heavy. This year, we’ve already seen a 1 seed and a 2 seed eliminated, while THREE (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, New Mexico) of the 3 seeds have been sent packing early. We have a 10, 11 and 12 seed remaining, along with a 9 seed that took down the tournament favorites. In addition, other double-digit seeds, such as Missouri (10), Old Dominion (11) and Murray State (13) all came awfully close to crashing the Sweet Sixteen party.

You want to talk about brackets being busted? How’s this for a stat? Out of the nearly 4.8 million brackets filled out by ESPN members, not a single one predicted all 16 teams left standing. In fact, only FOUR brackets predicted 15 out of the 16 teams correctly.

MIDWEST REGION

Rock, Chalk, Jay-SHOCK

Unbelievable. That’s one word to describe what happened on Saturday. The Jayhawks had everything going for them. They had lost only two games all year and beat tournament teams Texas A&M and Kansas State on the way to winning the Big 12 tournament. They had the senior floor general in Sherron Collins, the skilled big man in Cole Aldrich, the young blood in Xavier Henry and their supporting cast even had NBA talent. And yet, they were thoroughly outplayed and outclassed by the Northern Iowa Panthers, a team with no NBA talent that hadn’t won a tournament game since 1990 before Thursday. Even more surprising, the Jayhawks never led in this game save for the opening basket. Maybe we should have all paid attention to the early signs but instead we all drank the Jayhawk Kool-Aid, and rightfully so. They were the best team in the country. Instead, Collins, the winningest player in Jayhawk history, had one of his worst games at the worst time, and Bill Self adds another notch to his ever-growing list of chokejobs. But Kansas didn’t lose this game so much as these guys from Cedar Falls, Iowa, took it from them.

Northern Iowa outplayed a much more talented Kansas team for 40 minutes. That doesn’t mean the team who played better will win, as we witnessed when Cornell visited Lawrence in January. However, the fact that Northern Iowa persevered at the end when Kansas turned up their press speaks to their presence as actual threats to make the Final Four. One image that college basketball enthusiasts will remember from this year’s tournament is the image of sharpshooter Ali Farokhmanesh hesitating for a split second before letting fly from three to sink Kansas’ comeback hopes with 35 seconds left. Look for these underdogs to be the favorites against a hurting Michigan State squad.

Lucious Replaces Lucas, Saves Spartans

The game of the day on Sunday was, without question, the thriller between the Michigan State Spartans and the Maryland Terrapins decided by Korie Lucious’s buzzer-beating three-pointer. Unfortunately, the Spartans will be without All Big-10 selection Kalin Lucas, who has a tore his Achilles in the second half, for the rest of the season. Furthermore, guard Chris Allen played only four minutes on Sunday. These injuries mar a great victory for the Spartans, who needed Lucious and guard Durrell Summers to step up big to replace the production of Lucas and Allen. And step up they did. Summers tied a career-high with 26 points while hitting six threes, not bad for a 33% three-point shooter.

The frantic final minute of this game was unbelievable to watch. Maryland rallied from a 9 point deficit with 10 unanswered points to take an 81-80 lead in the final minute. Draymond Green hit a deep jumper to regain the lead for the Spartans, while Greivis Vasquez answered for the Terrapins with a tough drive in the paint. This all set up Lucious’ buzzer-beater. It was good to see that this game was not decided by a bonehead mistake or a referee’s whistle, but instead by three tremendous plays by players who did not want to see their season end. Speaking of which, shoutout to Greivis Vasquez’s career. I was stuck between rooting for the ACC and hating Maryland, but Vasquez has really been a tremendous player in the four years he has been at College Park and leaves there as the Terps’ second leading scorer all-time.

Buckeyes Now Favorites in Midwest

Dispatching Georgia Tech, an underachieving team with a horrible coach, on Sunday isn’t all that impressive. Instead, Ohio State now has a much easier path to the Final Four after Northern Iowa knocked off Kansas. The Buckeyes are now the clear favorite to come out of the Midwest Regional in St. Louis. They have the best player in the tournament in Evan Turner, who almost dropped a triple-double on the Yellow Jackets. They match up well with Tennessee in their Sweet Sixteen matchup. However, Tennessee does get up for big games, as they have beaten both Kansas and Kentucky, so we could quite possibly see a Tennessee vs. Northern Iowa Elite Eight matchup.

WEST REGION

Bulldogs Yap, Get Smacked by Orange

This Gonzaga team really does amuse me. After Duke destroyed them by 35 when they were ranked 15th in the country, I told everyone this team shouldn’t even be ranked at the end of the season. Of course, after being relatively unchallenged through their conference schedule, they remained in the top 20 at the end of the season. All of which begged the question why they were given such a low seed at 8? I thought they could have easily been a 5 or 6 seed. As it turns out, after Gonzaga center Robert Sacre called the Syracuse Orange “soft” before the game, the Orange go on to put a 22-point pasting on the Bulldogs. Sacre obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about. We’ve seen Sacre play against us; he’s probably the softest 7-footer with no perimeter game the world has ever seen.

Fear the Beard

Jacob Pullen is one of the best guards in the country that you still haven’t heard of, and he really does have a mean beard. The Wildcats have quietly put together two impressive victories in the first weekend of the tournament. Both victories have gone largely unnoticed because of the wild first afternoon of the tournament and Kentucky’s primetime annihilation of Wake Forest on Saturday. Kansas State blew out an overmatched BYU team on the strength of Pullen’s 34 points and 7 threes, some of which were about 3 feet beyond NBA range. The Sweet Sixteen matchup between Pullen and Xavier guard Jordan Crawford should be fun to watch, as these two prolific scorers will look to one-up each other to get their teams in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats should be Syracuse’s biggest competition to get out of Salt Lake City and make the Final Four from the West region.

EAST REGION

Big Red vs. Big Blue

Conventional thinking tells us that Kentucky will walk all over Cornell in this Sweet Sixteen matchup. After watching Kentucky take Wake Forest to the woodshed it seems the Big Red have no chance. Will the clock strike midnight for Cornell in Syracuse on Thursday? First of all, don’t call Cornell a Cinderella team. They’re much better than that; and they’re right, with the way they dominated Temple and Wisconsin. You could argue that outside of Kentucky, no team looked more impressive than Cornell in their first two victories, especially considering that the team is a 12 seed. Newsflash: Get to know Ryan Wittman, because he can shoot the hell out of the damn ball. And the team doesn’t play small, not with 7-footer Jeff Foote controlling the paint.

But Cornell can’t expect to continue to shoot 60% from the field can it, especially against a team with such length in Kentucky? Well, Kevin Garnett once said “anything is possible,” and the tournament’s M.O. thus far has been to expect the unexpected. Crazier things have happened, so give Cornell more than a puncher’s chance against Big Bad Big Blue. Plus, we here at Crazie Talk hate Calipari so wouldn’t it be great for his team to lose to an Ivy League squad?

Huskies Rollin’, Meet Mountaineers

Many analysts said it spoke of the shock of the weekend that an 11 seed knocking off a 3 seed got almost no publicity. That’s what happened when Washington completely destroyed New Mexico 82-64 on Saturday. Things are different because this 11 seed is from a power conference (yes, even that Pac-10) while this 3 seed is from a mid-major conference. But what a run by Washington anyway. Almost left for dead two weeks ago before winning the Pac-10 tournament and sneaking into the tournament, the Huskies have knocked off Marquette and New Mexico in the first weekend. Now they run into their stiffest test of the season in the West Virginia Mountaineers, who coolly handled Missouri’s full-court press on Sunday.

The Big East certainly has suffered with the loss of Villanova, Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame to double-digit seeds. However, the two best teams in the Big East all season have been Syracuse and West Virginia, and they have as good as chance as anyone to make it to the Final Four. As for New Mexico, they bow out of the tournament meekly like their Mountain West brethren BYU. The Mountain West, along with the Atlantic-10, were widely regarded as the best mid-major conferences during the year. Instead, only 1 team, Xavier, is left amongst those two conferences, while other mid-majors in the Sweet 16 come from the Missouri Valley Conference, the Horizon League, the West Coast Conference, and the Ivy League.

SOUTH REGION

St. Mary’s Makes First Sweet 16; Baylor’s Good Fortune Continues

Omar Samhan is still a man. He completely exposed Villanova’s lack of interior defense by dropping 32 points on them. Helped by the luck shooting of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova, Samhan led St. Mary’s to their first ever Sweet 16. Who would have thought the team from the WCC would be St. Mary’s and not Gonzaga? After looking at the brackets, it wasn’t farfetched at all. As for Villanova, not even the referees could save Scottie Reynolds this time. Reynolds career ends the same way Sherron Collins did – with one of the worst performances he has ever given. Reynolds shot only 4-26 in the two games of the tournament, hurting his team more than helping it and showing none of the clutch ability we have come to expect out of him.

After dispatching Old Dominion with relative ease, Baylor will face its third consecutive double-digit seed in St. Mary’s. This game will provide a matchup to watch, as Baylor center Ekpe Udoh will go one-on-one against Samhan. Udoh is a physical specimen not entirely unlike a Dwight Howard-type player. Udoh has the advantage in his quickness and his springs, but Samhan has a more refined post game and is stronger and more of a load in the paint. Both of these guys will be playing in the NBA someday. Look for Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn to both step their games up, as they are much quicker than St. Mary’s sharpshooting guards.

Boilermakers Squeak by Aggies; Setup Rematch with Duke

Many didn’t even give Purdue a chance in its first round game, much less its second round game. But this squad has shown incredible toughness in advancing to the Sweet 16. A much bigger Texas A&M team only outrebounded Purdue by six, 45-39. Defensive whiz Chris Kramer’s tough drive in the final seconds of overtime gave the Boilermakers their ticket to Houston. Purdue is a much better matchup for Duke because the regional is in Houston, and the Blue Devils’ size will definitely be key in this game. Duke will almost certainly outrebound Purdue, but the key will be how much the Devils dominate the glass. Two Decembers ago, Duke dominated Purdue on the road, 76-60, in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. This Purdue team is not even as good as last year’s, and Duke’s team is much better with the size its frontline presents. With that said, do not discount this Purdue team, who has overcome so many obstacles to get to the regional semifinal.

In the second round, Duke dominated California down low, as Brian Zoubek went for 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Lance Thomas also chipped in 9 rebounds. The Blue Devils’ perimeter defense was superb, as Nolan Smith put the straps on Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle, holding him to 12 (and questionable shot selection), and second-leading scorer Patrick Christopher only scored two points. What was most impressive about this victory was the fact that Jon Scheyer shot 1-11 and the team shot 3-17 from three and it still won going away. This was Duke’s best defensive effort of the season, as it held a high scoring Golden Bears team to 25 points below their season scoring average.

We’ll be back with a preview for Friday’s matchup with Purdue.

March Madness Day 2: Winners and Losers

After a ridiculously intense first day, Day 2 has lacked the flair and dramatics that the first sixteen games brought. Three double digit seeds won and none of them could really be considered upsets. Some low double digit seeds (Wofford and New Mexico State) took big name programs to the final minute but were unable to pull out victories. As we turn the page to the round-of-32, let’s look at the big winners and losers from Friday’s action:

WINNER: Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, Jeff Foote, 12 CORNELL BIG RED

Andy Bernard is one proud Cornellian today, and somewhere John Chaney is threatening to kill Temple coach Fran Dunphy. Just kidding. But seriously, Temple has nothing to be ashamed of, as this was an upset by number only. The Ivy League champ has shown the ability to play with the big boys all season long, the case in point being when they led Kansas in the final minute at the Phog. The Big Red are led by sharpshooting Ivy League Player of the Year Ryan Wittman and former Ivy League Player of the Year Louis Dale. 7-footer and Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Foote, who held his own against Cole Aldrich, rounds out the trio. Since this round of 32 game is not in Madison, give Cornell a great chance to spring the upset against Wisconsin. ESPN’s Jay Bilas has these guys in the Elite Eight. Easy now, let them focus on the Badgers.

LOSER: Fran Dunphy, Head Coach, 5 TEMPLE OWLS

Dunphy knows a thing or two about being an Ivy League upstart. He coached Penn to 9 Ivy League championships in the 90s and early 2000s before going to Big 5 rival Temple in 2006. He has made three consecutive tournament appearances, but has been bounced in the first round in all of them. In fact, Dunphy has won only one NCAA tournament game and is 1-12 for his career. You’d think he could coach Temple into the second round against a team from the league he coached in for 17 years, especially with pundits thinking this Owl team was underseeded. Nope, I guess they were seeded about right.

WINNER: THE BIG EAST

After a fairly embarrassing Day 1 for the “best conference” in America, three of the top Big East teams answered the bell and quieted the critics with dominant performances in their first round games. There was no need for DaSean Butler’s heroics as West Virginia overcame a slow start to crush an overmatched Morgan State team. Pittsburgh completely dominated Oakland from start to finish in a game where a Panthers player needed stitches for an errant elbow. And the big dog of the conference, Syracuse, wrote a better finish against Vermont than the last time they met by overwhelming them to win by 23. This wasn’t so much a win as it was just three top teams taking care of business, much more than could be said for what Georgetown and Villanova did on Thursday.

LOSER: Oliver Purnell, Head Coach, 7 CLEMSON TIGERS

Meet Oliver Purnell. He’s a funny looking guy who knows all about fast starts and lame finishes. For the third year in a row, Clemson has been bounced in the first round of the tournament by a lower seeded team. Upset by 12 seeded Villanova two years ago and 10 seeded Michigan last year, Clemson was taken down this year by a team that plays just like they do in Missouri. Both teams utilize the full-court press and push the tempo all the time, but the difference in this game was that Missouri didn’t have 20 turnovers. Sure, the coach doesn’t handle the basketball, but Purnell is 0-6 in NCAA tournament games in his coaching career.

WINNER: JaJuan Johnson, 4 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

Coming off a 27-point blowout to now-eliminated Minnesota and with jack-of-all-trades forward Robbie Hummel out, Purdue went from surefire championship contender to a popular pick to be the victim of a 13-4 upset at the hands of Siena. Not to mention leading scorer E’Twaun Moore rolled his ankle in the last game as well. But don’t feel sorry for these Boilermakers. They still had star center JaJuan Johnson, who complemented a four-guard lineup by controlling the paint with 23 points and 15 rebounds. A valiant effort by the Saints, who led at the half, came up short thanks to the aggression of Johnson, who made sure that everyone knew that one player does not make a team.

LOSER: James Anderson, 7 OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

3-12 from the field, 12 points and 6 rebounds for someone who averaged 22.6 points on the season and can score from anywhere on the floor. What an unfortunate final game for the unquestioned leader of the Cowboys. The Big 12 Player of the Year certainly came up small against Georgia Tech, coughing up two crucial turnovers in the final few minutes. The Yellow Jackets hounded Anderson all game by rotating fresh bodies onto him. He is still a likely lottery pick and definitely a first-rounder in the NBA draft, but Oklahoma State probably had higher expectations in the tournament, considering they were the only team to hand #1 Kansas a defeat in Big 12 play.

WINNER: Jordan Crawford, 6 XAVIER MUSKETEERS

Known until now only as the guy who dunked on LeBron James over the summer, Crawford has developed into a consistent 20-point scorer who can muscle his way into the paint and shoot it from deep. He (like Armon Bassett of Ohio) participated in the exodus from Indiana after the Kelvin Sampson debacle. Crawford helped prevent the Atlantic-10 from laying a complete egg in the tournament, as Xavier avoided the fates that befell conference rivals Temple and Richmond. Now Xavier can look forward to a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight, as they will tango with Pittsburgh in the round-of-32.

LOSER: Jahmar Young, 12 NEW MEXICO STATE AGGIES

Basketball is a game of put-up or shut-up. So if you have the swagger to disrespect last year’s Big 10 Player of the Year, you had better come to play ball. Having said that he didn’t know who Michigan State star guard Kalin Lucas was before the game, Young probably knows now, as Lucas scored 25 of the Spartan’s 70 points. Furthermore, Young scored only 13 AND committed a  stupid reach-on in the final minute that fouled him out of the game. What’s MORE, this clown rolled on the ground grabbing his groin area after he fouled out as if he were elbowed there, but replays showed no signs of any contact. New Mexico State had no timeouts at that point, so Young may have been stalling for his team. That was certainly a horrible acting job if I ever saw one.

WINNER: PACIFIC-10; Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson, 8 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS

For a conference that was disparaged the entire season for being the doormat of the Big Six, its performance in the first round by its two representatives have been quite impressive. Cal used numerous runs to put away the Louisville Cardinals and propel them to a second round game against Duke. The Bears have their own Big Three in Randle, Christopher and Robertson, who combined for 59 of their 77 points tonight. An additional subplot: Jamal Boykin, member of the much-maligned recruiting class of 2005 led by Josh McRoberts, plays us. Ex-Blue Devil Eric Boateng, a member of that same class, had that same privilege earlier this season; we all know how that went for him.

LOSER: 4 WISCONSIN BADGERS

To take nothing away from a game Wofford team who gave the Badgers all they could handle, but Wisconsin looked to be the strongest 4 seed in the field. It took a long corner jumper by Jon Leuer and a dubious call on a who-touched-it-last ball to save the Big 10 stalwart. Leuer and star guard Trevon Hughes combined for 39 of the team’s 53 points. Now they have to deal with an upstart Cornell team in the second round who will look to run and fire away from deep. Perhaps Wisconsin had a better matchup against Temple, who plays a slow, plodding place similar to the Badgers. They’ll need other players to step up big if they want to put away the Big Red.

WINNER: Marqus Blakely, 16 VERMONT CATAMOUNTS

So what his team got blown out by the Orangemen? This writer loves seeing ballers with big time hops throw down big time dunks. So we reward athleticism. Check out these highlights by Blakely in a losing effort. I’d be remiss if I didn’t show you this dunk of his in the America East Championship Game. Sick nasty. The 6’5 Blakely can play, too. He led Catamounts in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, and scouts see him playing in the NBA.

WINNER: Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas, 1 DUKE BLUE DEVILS

Blowing out Arkansas Pine-Bluff is nothing to write home about. Kyle gets this nod because he is playing the best basketball of his career; he continued it on Friday with a 22 and 10 performance and is averaging 21.3 points over his last 10 games. Hopefully he’s not working out for his home state Trailblazers in two months.

Lance Thomas had a 12-point game, almost tying a season-high. I put him here not only because of his workmanlike performance today but also because he is key to the Cal game. Let’s be generous and call our big three versus their big three a wash. We’ll need Lance’s hustle and defense and Zoubek’s size and rebounding to match up with the big guys for Cal, Boykin, Jorge Gutierrez and Max Zhang (who?). Let it be known that the last time we played the Golden Bears, a precocious freshman named Jason Kidd ended our hopes of a three-peat in the second round. Watch this and tell me it doesn’t fire you up.

LOSERS: TELEVISION VIEWERS (you and me)

Friday’s sixteen-pack of college basketball was a big yawn in terms of excitement and dramatics. All the higher seeds won except for a 12 seed in Cornell and the ACC and Big 12 trading 10-7 “upsets.” Wisconsin and Michigan State both got a scare, but they play in the Big Ten. The late night games were never really in doubt. Where was Ish Smith hitting a game-winner at 1 AM? And where was the simultaneous action of New Mexico holding off a game Montana squad while Tennessee barely fended off San Diego State? All 24 hours ago folks. What a difference a day makes.

As we look towards Saturday’s slate of eight games, two primetime tilts standout to me as intriguing: Kansas State vs. BYU at 8:15 and Kentucky vs. Wake Forest at 8:10. The latter should be a up and down, light-up-the-scoreboard game. And the next time anyone on your favorite team gets out in the open court, ask yourself, “What would John Wall do?”

Crazie-Talk on ESPN2 SportsNation at 4 pm Today!

HUGE NEWS, Crazie-Talk readers!

In what may be our ‘big bump,’ Crazie-Talk will be featured on the popular show SportsNation today on ESPN2 at 4 PM. Every day the show highlights one sports website that they like, and today that site is us!

Check out the show at 4pm on ESPN2 to see Crazie-Talk go global. I really hope we don’t draw the ire of Colin Cowherd, or god forbid, Skip Bayless make a guest appearance!

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March Madness Day 1: Winners and Losers

Before we turn our attention to Arkansas Pine-Bluff, why don’t we recap the first 16 games of the tournament slate with the day’s winners and losers. Filled with upsets, overtimes and plenty of late-game dramatics, the past 15 hours have been one of the more memorable NCAA tournament first days in several years. Find out who the big winners and losers were before you watch another 12 hours of college basketball. THIS… IS… MADNESS!!!

WINNER: 1 KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Kentucky didn’t just “land the plane” on Thursday. The Wildcats did 360s in midair, nosedives and put the plane on autopilot before touching down safely. They did the one thing everyone said was their weakness: hit their shots. “If we’re hitting our shots, we bury people,” said Coach Cal. Exactly. Led by Eric Bledsoe, who went 8-9 from three, Kentucky connected on 15 of 33 shots from long range and assisted on 27 of their 31 made field goals. This was a thorough burial of a vastly inferior team by the Wildcats, who were not bitten by the upset bug that seemed to be the theme of the day. Kentucky turned in the best performance of the day, dropping 100 on hapless East Tennessee State.

LOSER: Damion James and Dexter Pittman, 8 TEXAS LONGHORNS

Remember when these two seniors, James, the ferocious rebounder, and Pittman, fatboy-turned-unstoppable-load in the paint, were thought to be the best low-post tandem in the country. Well, they have finally been put out of their misery, not having much say in their 81-80 overtime loss to Wake Forest. A sense of urgency didn’t seem to be in the upperclassmen’s vocabulary, as Texas’ three dynamic freshmen combined to score 48 points. James shot a miserable 4-14 in his last game in burnt orange and clanked a go-ahead free throw at the end of regulation. Actually, don’t blame Damion James…Blame this guy…

WINNER: Ishmael Smith, 9 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS

Talk about a senior who did not want to play his last game. Smith, he of the 17 assists and 23 turnovers in 5 career games against Duke, was incredible with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists and the game-winning fadeaway 18-footer with 1.3 seconds left. Smith began his career as an out-of-control freshman burdened with the unenviable task of replacing Chris Paul. Four years later, he has became a gutsy, tough, calm and clutch leader for the Demon Deacons. We don’t get a stacked round-of-32 matchup between UT and UK, but we do get another matchup to watch: Smith and John Wall going head to head. Speed vs. Speed.

LOSER: Anthony Johnson, 14 MONTANA GRIZZLIES

A bit harsh to pick on someone from a mid-major, especially given Johnson’s incredible made-for-TV-movie story to get to where he is today. But Johnson provided some bulletin-board material for New Mexico earlier in the week by suggesting that the Grizzlies got off easing by drawing the Lobos instead of possibly a Big East team. Maybe he wished he got the Big East team instead. Against New Mexico, he wound up eating his words, going 1-12 from the field and negating an inspired effort by his teammates to become the second 14-seed to win on the day. And isn’t it ironic that the Big East (1-3) performed worse in the day than the Lobos’ conference, the Mountain West (2-2).

WINNER: Quincy Pondexter, 11 WASHINGTON HUSKIES

So the Pac-10 has, and rightfully so, been the punching bag of the Big Six conferences all season. So of course a Pac-10 team beats a team from the former “best conference” in America. In another example of a senior who did not want to play his last game, Pondexter showed those Pac-10 media members and coaches who did not vote him Player of the Year just how much intestinal fortitude he has. After hitting a tough hanging bank shot from the left wing with 1.7 seconds, Pondexter put another dagger into the Big East’s day by sending Marquette back to Milwaukee. Let’s see what response Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle has against Louisville later tonight.

LOSER: 3 GEORGETOWN HOYAS

Well, this was obvious, wasn’t it? I do remember saying during our annihilation at the hands of Georgetown, “This team ain’t SHIT.” Prophetic words, I know. Especially after losses to South Florida, Rutgers and Notre Dame. But OHIO? People hopped back on the Hoya bandwagon after their run to the Big East finals (this writer included, who had them in the Elite Eight), but they completely forgot how to defend. Now Georgetown makes dubious history by becoming the first team seeded 3 or higher to lose by double digits in the first round. Greg Monroe, SHOULD HAVE COME TO DUKE. Maybe you can transfer here so you can learn what it feels like to win in the tournament. Let me know how those workouts for the Wizards go.

WINNER: Armon Bassett and D.J. Cooper, 14 OHIO BOBCATS

And this was just as obvious. These two small dynamos combined for 55 points and 10 three-pointers made, as they consistently shredded Georgetown’s defense. Bassett, a 6’0 sparkplug who transferred from Indiana after the Kelvin Sampson debacle, hit big shot after big shot to answer Hoya runs. And Cooper, a 5’11 freshman southpaw weighing no more than 170 pounds, drove fearlessly into the lane time after time and was able to finish creatively at the rim against the Hoyas size. No one could have predicted this as we all thought Georgetown had cured its mercurial habits.

LOSER: 1 KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Kansas did not really lose anything, and they were never in danger, as they still remain the odds on favorite to make it to the Final Four from the Midwest Regional. However, Lehigh was able to cover the spread, which makes the Jayhawks a loser. Lehigh bust out of the gate, leading 12-4 with 13:25 left in the 1st half. The Jayhawks only recovered to lead by six at the half. Perhaps the pressure of everyone and Obama picking Kansas to win the championship has worn on them. Kansas’ uninspiring performance paled in comparison to the thorough domination by the other 1-seed in action, Kentucky.

WINNER: Danero Roberts, 13 MURRAY STATE RACERS

Roberts’ buzzer-beater is easily the feel good story of the day and has made his Murray State team the early Cinderella darling of the tournament. You know he’ll be in this year’s “One Shining Moment” montage. Receiving a pass with about three seconds left, Roberts dribbled to a spot and pulled up for a fadeaway 19-footer, hitting nothing but net. Watching the second-half of this game, I heard so many audible “Let’s Go Racers” chants. And their fans had good reason to be so confident in their team. The Racers are probably the most balanced team in the tournament, with six players averaging between 9.7 and 10.6 points. Watch out Butler.

LOSER: A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor, 4 VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Ogilvy now has the dubious distinction as someone who has been upset twice at the hands of a 13 seed, having lost to upstart Siena two years ago in the first round. Against a team that had one rotation player taller than 6’7, Vanderbilt’s big men came up small. Ogilvy had only 12 points and 6 rebounds in just 20 minutes while Taylor spent most of the second half on the bench in foul trouble. You had to feel for Ogilvy after he dropped to his knees, devastated. But then again, if you don’t want to get upset, assert yourself and take care of business.

WINNER: 2 KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

K-State’s win over North Texas meant that Wildcat teams turned in the two best performances of the day by a top 4 seed. Personally, I didn’t care about this game as I was so immersed in the Vanderbilt-Murray State classic. But it was good to see that parity hadn’t completely gobbled up the tournament by seeing a 2 seed take care of business with ease, something that wasn’t done earlier in the day (more on that later). Syracuse should watch out for K-State, who have the shooters (Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente) and size (Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels) to give them fits.

LOSER: 12 UTEP MINERS

The team that breezed through Conference USA instead ends the season with two consecutive losses. At least this one was to a team worthy of being in the tournament (unlike Houston). However, with a couple of strong 5 seeds in the field (Michigan State and Temple), UTEP was a trendy pick to pull the common 12-5 upset. And that would have led to the ultimate Cinderella 12 vs. 13 matchup against Murray State, a favorite of mine. Yeah, I’m just ticked because I picked UTEP to be in the Sweet 16, but I’m writing this column. Instead, Butler extended its winning streak to 21 games, as its three point shooting completely overwhelmed the Miners.

WINNER: Michael Loyd Jr., 7 BYU COUGARS

Some people know about Jimmer Fredette, the 6-2 gunner on BYU who dropped 37 to finally drop Florida in double OT. But there’s no way anyway outside of Provo, Utah knows who Michael Loyd is. Michael Loyd, who averages 4.6 points on the season? As much as Fredette did to help the Cougars win, I’m sure he’d tell you this victory would not have come without Loyd’s coming-out party. Loyd actually got some experience against New Mexico earlier this season when Fredette sat out the second half due to sickness. Against the Gators, the 6’1 sophomore guard poured in a career-high 26 points to help his team advance to play Kansas State.

WINNER: Omar Samhan, 10 SAINT MARY’S GAELS

This Samhan is a man. The 6’11, 260-pound beast completely dominated Richmond on the interior. Thanks to his 29 points and 12 rebounds, the Gaels outrebounded the Spiders 39-16. That is a ridiculous number, as in Samhan grabbed almost as many boards as the entire opposing team. He not only forced the issue all day in the paint but also got open looks for St. Mary’s shooters such as Mickey McConnell, who contributed 23 points. You will be seeing Samhan on an NBA team in the near future. He is that damn good.

LOSER: Luke Harangody, 6 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

Digger Phelps must be sick to his stomach right now. Who had Notre Dame in the Sweet 16? Not me. I called those Patties ridiculously overseeded and they were; this wasn’t an upset either.. Old Dominion did beat Georgetown earlier in the season (not as impressive anymore), but they were also a statistically better team than the Fighting Irish. Nothing epitomizes the bad luck of the Irish more than Harangody, the former Big East Player of the Year who ended his career with just 4 points and 7 rebounds. What’s interesting is that Notre Dame played its best basketball of the year without big ol’ Luke. His NBA stock is looking reeeeal good right now.

WINNER: Ekpe Udoh, 3 BAYLOR BEARS

Who the hell said there were no NBA lottery picks in the South region? Although Baylor wasn’t really impressive at all in its win, Udoh certainly was. And I cut Baylor some slack because this was its first tournament win in about a half-century. So it has been a while. Udoh went for 20 points, 13 boards, 2 blocks and even threw in 5 dimes. Baylor looks like a team that can certainly give Villanova fits in the Elite Eight. Maybe St. Mary’s upsets Nova and we get Udoh vs. Samhan in the Sweet 16? What a matchup that would be.

LOSER: Scottie Reynolds, 2 VILLANOVA WILDCATS

I’ve been taking as many potshots as I can on the Big East. Case in point: it took Scottie Reynolds and his army of zebras to turn away Robert Morris’ upset bid and save the Big East from utter humiliation. Reynolds shot an atrocious 2-15 from the field (although one three was big at the end of OT), but took 16 free throws on the day. These Wildcats, unlike Kentucky and Kansas State, limped to the finish and Villanova did nothing in this game to change the perception that it was the weakest 2 seed in the field. Which takes me to one final winner on the day…

WINNER: 1 DUKE BLUE DEVILS

How, you say, do we win by not even playing? Because of the complete carnage that you see on the battlefield that is the South Regional. So originally everyone had the South as the weakest bracket in the field, let by the crummiest 2 seed in Villanova. Then the trendy Final Four pick Baylor has trouble putting away Sam Houston State and both 6 and 7 seeded teams, who many thought were already overseeded, fell. 4 seed Purdue is still smarting from injuries, I believe, and remains a popular choice to be upset by Siena. I hope karma doesn’t bite me in the ass from all the shots I took at the Big East if we have to play Louisville in the round of 32. Everyone may be cowering right now, but they won’t be when they play Duke. Nonetheless, like I said before, there are NO excuses if we do not make the Final Four this year.

Same time tomorrow, folks.

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