March Madness: Breaking Down the Midwest Region

With the NCAA Tournament just hours away, we continue our breakdown of the entire field. After looking at the SouthWest, and East regions in the last two days, we’ll take a look at the Midwest region, where UNC and Kansas look to be on a collision course in St. Louis.

The Midwest region.

Best First Round Matchup: #3 Georgetown vs. #14 Belmont

There are quite a few to pick from here. Assuming Cal takes down South Florida, Cal and Temple should be a hell of a 5/12 matchup. NC State and San Diego State should also be pretty interesting. But a 3-seed has only lost to 14-seed 15 times in the history of the tournament – and this might be the year to add another game to that list. Belmont is dangerous, dangerous team. Duke fans know this first hand, as the Bruins took the Devils all the way down to the final minutes in Cameron in the first game of the 2011-2012 season. Belmont loves to play fast, and they put up a ton of points -averaging just over 81 points a game while making almost 9 three’s each time out. Georgetown, in contrast, plays much, much slower, using their trio of big men – Hollis Thompson, Otto Porter, and Henry Sims to dominate the paint. They also have a history of completely flaming out in the tournament. This should be a fun matchup, and Belmont has all the tools – experience, ability to make shots, and fearlessness – to take down the big boys.

Dark Horse: #11 NC State

We like Belmont a lot, but for variety’s sake, we’ll go with the Pack as our dark horse in this region. Yes, they’ve had some struggles but have come on very strong at the end of the season. They brought it against Carolina in the ACC Tournament, and they clearly have the potential to be a very, very good team – especially when CJ Leslie has got his head in the game. We’re not really sure how deep they will go, mainly because they’ve struggled with consistency all year, but if they play with the fire they had in Atlanta last week, the rest of the region should watch out.

Player to Watch: Ray McCallum, #15 Detroit

Ray McCallum is an absolute stud at the point guard position. He was a heavily recruited McDonald’s All American – one of a trio of point guards, including Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving, sought after by Duke in the Class of 2010. Instead of heading to Duke, UCLA, Kansas, or any of the other bevy of high majors going after him, he chose instead to head to Detroit to play for his father. Leader of the Horizon League tournament champions, McCallum averaged 23.0 points on 63% shooting during the first leg of postseason play. If Detroit has any chance at being a Cinderella this season, it will all depend on Ray McCallum.

Our Picks:

After three regions of mostly chalk, we’ve finally got some upsets brewing in the Midwest. #12 California should win its First Four game against #12 South Florida, and make a run at the Sweet Sixteen by taking down #5 Temple and #4 Michigan. The bottom half of the bracket will also be dominated by a few double-digit seeds, with #11 NC State and #14 Belmont advancing, with Belmont taking down the Pack and heading to the Sweet Sixteen. Meanwhile, both UNC and Kansas should dominate their relatively weak draws and meet in the Elite Eight. It will all depend on which version of Tyshawn Taylor shows up, but if he can be steady and cut down on turnovers, the Jayhawks should be able to book their tickets to New Orleans.

Below are our complete picks. Let us know what you think in the comment box!

March Madness: Breaking Down The East Region

With the NCAA Tournament just over 24 hours away, we continue our breakdown of the entire field. After looking at the South and West regions in the last two days, it’s time to examine the East region, where top-ranked Syracuse was not given an easy road to New Orleans.

The East region.

Best First Round Matchup: #5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Harvard

Come on…how could we not pick this game? This should present a classic 5-12 matchup between a Vanderbilt team fresh off a victory over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament and Tommy Amaker’s squad from Harvard. Vanderbilt’s had the epitome of an up and down season this year. After being ranked in the preseason top-10 and falling completely off the radar, they turned it on again late in the season and are now being considered one of the contenders in the East regional. Their run to an SEC Tournament championship boosted their seeding up to a #5, despite having not been ranked higher than 25th in the AP poll since November. While some believe that Vanderbilt may be overseeded, just as many believe Harvard was victimized by the selection committee. Despite being nationally ranked for five weeks throughout the season, the Crimson could only muster a 12-seed while many believed they were deserving of a 10 or 11. All in all, this should be a great basketball game. Vanderbilt has proved throughout the season that they are capable of beating any team in the country, but they are also capable of losing to any team in the country. Harvard has played consistently throughout the season and are an extremely well coached team, but other than matchups against Florida State and Connecticut early in the season they haven’t faced an opponent this good in a long time. Expect for this game to be close into the game’s final five minutes, but ultimately Vanderbilt’s athleticism will prove too much for Harvard.

Player To Watch: John Jenkins, #5 Vanderbilt

Jenkins, a 6-foot-4 guard from Hendersonville, Tennessee, is the key to the Commodores’ offense. They have a great opportunity to advanced deep into the East region, but if they are going to do so Jenkins will need to be on his game. He averaged 19.9 points per game for Vanderbilt on the season, shooting a 44.8% clip from 3-point range. Not only has he proven that he’s able to knock down crucial shots from deep, he will be especially important for the Commodores late in games, shooting 84.3% from the free throw line on the year. With a tough first round matchup against a defensively-minded Harvard team and a potential second round tilt with Wisconsin, Jenkins is a huge piece to how this region will play out.

Player To Not Watch: Fab Melo, #1 Syracuse

It was announced yesterday that Syracuse’s pursuit of a trip to New Orleans would be one that did not include its starting center, Fab Melo. The Orange released on their website Tuesday afternoon that Melo would be ineligible to play due to what they considered an “eligibility issue”. Although they were nondescript in the reason for his absence, this is a huge blow to Syracuse and a major shake-up in the East region. Syracuse is a different team without Melo, especially on the defensive end of the floor, where Melo averaged 2.9 blocks per game. Although 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game is not that much offensive production to lose, you have to think that the Orange might have been shaken mentally by losing one of their team’s key members just two days before the tournament begins.

Dark Horse: #4 Wisconsin

Although Vanderbilt has been getting most of the attention in this region after knocking off top-ranked Kentucky, we see Wisconsin as a team poised for a run. They play a great brand of postseason basketball- they are big, physical, experienced, and play lockdown defense for 40 minutes. Their road through the East regional just got a lot easier when Syracuse announced they would be playing without Fab Melo. They’ll have a tough second round test against Vanderbilt, but if they can get through there they should be able to overpower a depleted Syracuse team and make a run to the Elite 8.

Our Picks: Ohio State to the Final Four

Remember that Ohio State team that absolutely trounced Duke back in November? They haven’t gone anywhere. With Syracuse appearing weakened, the East region just completely opened up for Ohio State. They could have a tough Sweet 16 matchup with Florida State, but should they survive it looks like they’ll be going to New Orleans. Jared Sullinger is one of the top talents in the country, but what makes the Buckeyes particularly dangerous is their physicality and their guard play. Aaron Craft is a floor general that can pick apart an opponent from the inside out, while I think Duke fans remember the fits that William Buford gave us from beyond the arc. They are a very experienced team and that should serve them well in a deep tournament run. There just isn’t a team in this region well-equipped enough to stop them, and if Sullinger somehow is able to elevate his game further for tournament time, the top teams in other regions will start to take notice as well.

Below are our complete picks. Let us know what you think in the comment box!

Our picks for the East region. Looks like Ohio State will be dancing down to Bourbon Street.

March Madness: Breaking Down the West Region

Welcome to the Madness, folks. To follow up on our preview of the South Region (Duke’s region) from yesterday, I’m here with a few thoughts on the West Region, which stars Michigan State as the #1 seed and a host of interesting players. Read on…

The West Region. (via ESPN.com's Bracket)

Best First Round Matchup: #8 Memphis vs. #9 Saint Louis

Obviously, the 8/9 game is intended to be between teams with parity; due to the closeness in seeding, victory in this game is less impressive than the potential of knocking off the #1 seed in the next round. I’m particularly intrigued  by this game, though, because of the coaching matchup. Memphis is led by Josh Pastner, a young ingenue/madman who succeeded John Calipari when he left for Kentucky. Saint Louis, on the other hand, is led by Rick Majerus, an old hand who has won 70% of his games, whose sweaters are the stuff of legend and whose Utah Utes took down UNC in the 1998 Final Four. It’s crazed fervor versus vintage stoicism, and the teams seem to be evenly matched. On paper, Memphis looks loads better: several 5 star recruits, including local legend Joe Jackson and star swing guard Will Barton. But the Tigers have struggled against big competition all year, losing early season matchups against Georgetown, Louisville and Murray State and dropping 3 games in the generally atrocious Conference USA. Saint Louis, though lacking the supposed star power of the Tigers, has balance and consistency–three players averaging in double figures–as well as defense, with the seventh best defensive rating in the NCAA allowing just 57.5 points per game. Ken Pomeroy has the Billikens at 15th in the country in his mathematically generated rankings (Memphis is 9th, though). Saint Louis finished second in the Atlantic 10, a vastly superior conference than the C-USA. It’s a clash of generations and a battle for Interstate 55 supremacy. Something tells me the youth and athleticism of Memphis will seize the day, but expect an exciting contest for the right to play (presumably) Michigan State.

Dark Horse: #6 Murray State

If I were Murray State, I’d be pissed with my seed. The Racers, one of four Kentucky universities to make the Dance (along with UK, Louisville and Western Kentucky), are 30-1 and beat tournament teams Memphis, St. Mary’s and the aforementioned WKU Hilltoppers during the season. Don’t fault their iffy strength of schedule, which is 239th out of 344 teams. Murray State’s top 5 scorers are upperclassmen with tournament experience, and they will come to the tourney with something to prove. We think they’re Sweet 16 bound and could present a problem for Missouri if they get there.

Player to Watch: Drew Gordon, #5 New Mexico

Gordon is a former big name recruit, somewhat pursued by Duke, who has had a strange journey to stardom for the Lobos and Coach Steve Alford. He transferred from UCLA after two seasons, apparently due to discipline problems and disagreements with Coach Ben Howland (who apparently has had many personnel problems in the past few years). Gordon has thrived at New Mexico, averaging a double-double for his final two seasons. He averaged 15.3 points and 10.6 rebounds in the Mountain West tournament and led the Lobos to the title with big victories over UNLV and San Diego State, both of whom are dancing. Gordon–mature, poised and 6’9” 245 lbs.–could provide a spark for the Lobos. If they get past Long Beach State, the potential matchup with big, physical Louisville is tantalizing.

Our Picks: Mizzou to the Final Four

I don’t foresee too many upsets in this region–in the first round, anyway. Some surprises might include Murray State to the Sweet 16 with a victory over Marquette and, if all goes well for Billy Donovan, Florida could ostensibly beat Mizzou. But it’s not likely–Missouri is primed to go to the Final Four. Having been snubbed by the selection committee after winning the Big XII title over Baylor, the Tigers got a favorable draw with this bracket. Michigan State is the weakest of the #1 seeds to me, although they are much better coached by Tom Izzo than Mizzou, who hired former Miami coach Frank Haith (how did he get that job?). The Tigers are loaded with seniors and physical guards. Ricardo Ratliffe matches up well with Spartan star forward Draymond Green. Kim English, a 6’6” guard who shoots nearly 50% from 3, is a matchup nightmare for anyone. The Tigers went 30-4; expect them to be 34-4 when the Final Four rolls around.

Below are our complete picks. Let us know what you think in the comment box!

Crazie-Talk's picks for the West Region. Don't hold us to 'em.


Also, if you’re interesting in competing in our version of the Bracket Challenge, Gothic Madness, and competing against the fans of three other Duke sites, join Team Crazie Talk (#TeamCT). E-mail us at crazietalk@gmail.com or tweet at us @crazietalker to join. More details here. Thanks!

March Madness: Breaking Down The South Region

It’s that time of year! The NCAA Tournament is upon us, which means it’s time to make our picks for the three most exciting weeks of the basketball season. In the next few days, we’ll be breaking the tournament region by region in our efforts to turn the Average Joe into a regular Joey Brackets. Let’s start with the South region.

The South region

Best First Round Matchup: #5 Wichita St. vs. #12 VCU

It won't be another run to the Final Four for VCU, but should be a great second round game.

This is a matchup between two mid-majors that are both very, very hot right now. Wichita State has lost twice since January 4 while Virginia Commonwealth has lost just once since January 8. They are set to collide Thursday in Portland in a matchup between two teams that could both easily make a run to the Sweet 16. Wichita St. sports a balanced offensive attack, with three players averaging more than 12 points per game. While they love to run and gun on offense, they also crash the boards relentlessly, pulling down 38 rebounds per game. Senior Garrett Stutz paces the Shockers’ offense. The 7-foot center records 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, shooting 82.1% from the free throw line. Meanwhile, VCU operates at a significantly slower pace. This is not the same team you saw make a run to the Final Four last year- the only starter remaining from last year’s team is senior Bradford Burgess, who leads the Rams with 13.3 points per game. But the Rams prefer to earn their stripes on the defensive end of the floor. Although they lost many key pieces from their tournament run last season, they haven’t lost the “havoc” defense that got them there. They’ll be all over the floor trying to slow Wichita State down and force as many turnovers as possible. Expect this game to be a chess match between two great coaches, VCU’s Shaka Smart and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall will be struggling throughout the game to control the pace. Marshall previously led Winthrop to seven NCAA Tournament appearances in nine seasons before being hired by Wichita State in 2007. Ultimately, the Shockers should prove too strong for the Rams, but this should be a great basketball game.

Dark Horse: #6 UNLV
Look out for the Runnin’ Rebels. UNLV’s successes this season didn’t end when they knocked off previously top-ranked North Carolina in November. They went on to defeat then-ranked Illinois and split matchups with a talented San Diego State team. This is a team that is fully loaded with offensive firepower, and other teams might not be able to keep up. Sophomore Mike Moser is a force inside, averaging a double-double at 14.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Chace Stanback is the type of player that can take a stake and absolutely drive it into another team’s heart. Shooting a 46.4% clip from beyond the arc, Stanback is the sixth-ranked long-range shooter in the nation. When he gets going- watch out. Chace led the way with 28 points and 10 rebounds in UNLV’s victory over North Carolina and shot 8-for-9 from beyond the arc en route to 29 points in a win over Louisiana-Monroe. This is the type of team that is very capable of catching fire and making a run to the Elite 8, but could face a very tough third round matchup with an equally athletic Baylor team. These teams will make for a great matchup, and if UNLV can survive they could be big trouble for Duke in the Sweet 16.

Our Picks:

Don’t expect too many surprises in this region. The first round will be dominated by the higher seeds, as the two most dangerous lower seeded teams–Wichita State and VCU–have been matched up with one another. Iowa State and Connecticut will be close, but expect UConn’s talent should prevail. Xavier is far and away the best 10-seed in the tournament, and will be a tough test for Duke in the next round. Duke fans, be warned: Lehigh will also be a tough opponent for the Blue Devils. Lehigh hasn’t lost a game by double digits all season, and is the highest Pomeroy-rated 15 seed in the field. That said, here’s how our bracket shaped up:

Crazie Talk's picks for the South region. Yes, we hope to have a rematch of the greatest game ever played. But chances are that UK will come out on top.

The Final Four Pick: Kentucky. There’s a reason why they are the top overall seed in this year’s tournament: Kentucky is far and away the most talented team in the country. They ran away with the SEC this season, finishing with a perfect 16-0 record. Anthony Davis is the odds on favorite to win both National Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year in the NCAA. They are simply too deep, too athletic, too talented for anyone in arguably this tournament’s toughest region to contend with. Whether or not they’ll be able to win a national championship with a bunch of one-and-dones and questionable team chemistry remains to be seen, but they should be able to make a run to New Orleans without more than a slight scare.

We’ll be back to preview the West region tomorrow. Let us know what you think about our analysis and picks in the comments below.

Gothic Madness 2012: Intro

Hey folks! It’s Selection Sunday…which means March Madness is finally upon us. And with that comes Gothic Madness 2012 – a battle to the death between four of your favorite Duke sites – The Devils Den, Tobacco Road BluesDukeHoopBlog, and of course, us.

Each site will have a team of 25 people, and each team member’s bracket scores will count towards their team’s total. The team with the highest total will earn the right to bask in the glory of their accomplishments. The highest individual scorer will win an awesome prize.

If you’d like to get a spot on #TeamCT, let us know at crazietalk@gmail.com. If our roster is filled by then, try and get in touch with the other guys on Twitter (@TheDevilsDen, @TobaccoRdBlues, @DukeHoopBlog) to see if you can get onto their rosters.

We’ll update standings and post stats every after each weekend of the tournament. May the best team win!

Section 17: Clean Slate

Miles addressing the crowd on Senior Night (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

No, the regular season did not end the way Duke wanted it to. There was no celebration, there were no championship banners, just Miles Plumlee standing at center court thanking the Duke faithful on senior night. Good news is, starting today, none of that matters. Duke saw its first action in the ACC tournament Friday night when it dispatched the 2nd-seeded Blue Devils dispatched of 10th-seeded Virginia Tech by a score of 60-56 at Atlanta’s Phillips Arena. Many call this tournament the Duke Invitational- Duke has been crowned champions of the ACC tournament in 10 of the last 13 seasons.

However, this year, the road to another ACC tournament championship would be a little bit tougher. Just as the regular season ended on a bad note with a loss to Carolina, the first days of the postseason were not favorable for the Blue Devils as well. On Tuesday the team received news that Ryan Kelly would be unable to play in the ACC tournament due to a sprained right foot that he suffered during practice. Kelly was not only a crucial piece of the Blue Devils offense due to his size, versatility, and ability to hit from outside, but he was also a part of Duke’s thin frontcourt rotation. While typically utilizing a three guard attack, Duke normally only uses Kelly along with Miles and Mason Plumlee at its forward spots. Especially with the Plumlees finding themselves in foul trouble during Duke’s last few games, this meant that the Blue Devils would have to attack Virginia Tech with an undersized lineup.

Duke will have to win the ACC tournament this year without Ryan Kelly (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)


The Duke team that we saw on the court against Virginia Tech was different from the team we’d been watching all season. This was both good and bad. Unlike the team we’d seen knock down shots from long distance all year, Duke was not stroking it from deep against the Hokies. They only shot 5-for-26 on the game- just a 19.2% clip, half of their season average. Meanwhile, Duke played far scrappier basketball than I’d seen them play all year. They were getting it done with defense, and although they only forced 10 Hokies turnovers on the game, a little bit of hustle went a long way for Duke. It seemed as though they were everywhere on the defensive end. They were timing their switches perfectly and their help-side defense was working to perfection. It seemed as though nearly every Virginia Tech shot was a contested one, and although the Blue Devils struggled on the glass in the game’s opening minutes, they were able to pull down crucial rebounds when it counted the most.

Yes, this was an ugly game. A very ugly game. The first half was close throughout, and even when Duke started to knock down shots and pull away in the second half, Virginia Tech was able to find its way back into the contest. But personally I’m willing to sacrifice some style points for fighting out a gritty win. I’d much rather win a close game by playing sound defense and hustling than by shooting the lights out and running away by 30. The shots will start to fall, but this is the type of basketball we need to be playing regardless of whether or not we’re knocking down jumpers. As we progress farther into postseason play, we’ll need to do both to beat some of the best teams in the country. But for now, I am perfectly content with playing lockdown defense while we wait for this shots to start falling.

Kelly’s absence meant more playing time for Josh Hairston, who stepped up admirably off the bench and contributed 17 quality minutes. This was the most Hairston has played in a game since December 30. Although he only contributed four points and three rebounds, Hairston was a huge part of Duke’s defensive presence throughout the game. His ability to hustle on defense and body up in the paint was huge when playing with an undersized team. Especially when Miles Plumlee had to head to the bench in the first half after picking up two early fouls, Hairston’s effort was crucial to Duke’s success in this game. After not seeing very much action in most of his team’s biggest games this year, props to Josh for stepping up when Duke needed him the most.

13 is a lot of 3-point attempts, but how can you not shoot them when you're this wide open? (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Tyler Thornton was the MVP of this game. He contributed a career-high 13 points, adding four rebounds, two assists, and three steals. But it was what he added that doesn’t show up on a box score that was most important. Tyler emerged as a floor general tonight, similar to what we saw from him earlier in the season. He controlled the pace of the game, and embraced the fact that his team would have to grind out a win. He was constantly vocal on both ends of the floor, which was crucial to Duke’s success, especially on the defensive end. Although he only registered three steals, he completely changed the game on the defensive end, knocking down many passes, providing constant pressure, and getting in the face of Virginia Tech’s star guard, Erick Green, and making him fight for every shot. Tyler was also not afraid to step up and take big shots. He knocked down Duke’s opening bucket of the game with a 3-pointer, and little did we know but that would set the tone for the rest of the game. Thornton would go on to take 16 shots, including 13 from beyond the arc, which would be too many for him, if not for the amount of open looks he was getting. For some reason Virginia Tech felt very free to rotate off of him to supply double teams, leaving him open for a lot of looks. He’ll need to knock down a few more of those open threes moving forward, but he was definitely a presence that changed the outcome of this game.

Seth was a warrior in the second half, fighting to contribute until the shots started falling (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

This game highlighted a huge difference between Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry- Curry can still contribute when he does not score. Both of these players did not have very good games, each entering halftime without getting on the scoreboard. Dawkins was unable to bounce back, while Curry was able to fight through and make a difference. Andre finished 0-for-5 from the floor in 14 minutes. He looked lost on both ends of the floor. Seth turned it on in the second half, knocking down a huge three to get on the board and finished with nine points, six rebounds, and five assists. The Blue Devils had missed their previous 10 3-point attempts before Curry hit that shot. That kind of mental toughness is something that all of Duke’s players can take a lesson from moving forward.

We've come to expect these sorts of games from Mason Plumlee (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Mason Plumlee was his usual man-child self, but with an added twist. Not only did he manage yet another efficient game with 12 points and 10 boards on 4-of-6 shooting, he went 4-for-5 from the free throw line. He’s shooting 79% from the charity stripe in his last three games, and has made a conscious effort to improve his free throw shooting during the second half of this season. Ever since his terrible 2-for-10 fiasco against Virginia, he’s been a different free throw shooter. I know it sounds a bit scary to say it, but I actually felt confident watching Mason Plumlee step to the line against Virginia Tech. Hopefully he’s able to carry this forward- he’s definitely getting hot at the right time.

It wasn’t pretty, it was very scrappy, but I think there are a lot of positives to pull out of a game that overall was not a very positive one. We showed that we could win without Ryan Kelly (keep in mind that we don’t know how long it will be until he is 100% again), we showed that we can win without hitting long range shots, and we showed that we can win by defending, not simply by outscoring our opponents. It’s a little disheartening to play inferior teams and consistently find ourselves in close game, but let’s face it, it’s tournament time. The only type of postseason game is a close game. By playing in high pressure situations throughout the season, we’re putting ourselves at an advantage over teams like Kentucky that are blowing their opponents out every night. Regardless of whether or not the other team is good enough to be playing us that tightly, learning how to win gritty, tight contests is how you have success in March. It’s time to put that to the test.