Category Archives: College Basketball

Injustices Across Sports Pt. 2

By BJ

College Basketball

Last Sunday, suspensions were handed down to the players involved in the Cincinnati-Xavier on-court brawl that ended the game early. The most egregious act came from Cincinnati’s best player, senior Yancy Gates, who sucker-punched an opposing player a la LeGarrette Blount.

Blount, if you remember, was also a senior in 2009 and sucker-punched an opposing player immediately after a season-opening loss

Blount

to Boise State in 2009. His punishment? Suspended for 10 games. Blount went undrafted in the following year’s NFL draft but signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he became the team’s primary back in Week 7.

With that precedent, I would’ve liked to see Gates suspended for the rest of the season (at least 23 games) but would’ve found 20 games reasonable, roughly the same number of weeks Blount missed before returning right before the season ends and the playoffs. His punishment? Suspended for six games, along with two teammates.

That is an absolute travesty, considering how unlike with Blount’s

Frease - the martyr.

victim, Kenny Frease did not provoke Gates before the hammer punch, and he was immensely bloodied. What also isn’t mentioned is how Gates punched a second Xavier player in the face but received the same suspension that two others got, including one who stomped Frease on the ground, and just two more games than two Xavier players got, all while Gates is the only player to throw punches.

It sure is nice to be coddled with superstar treatment. To mitigate the

Gosselin before and after.

backlash of the short suspension, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin offered tough words, saying that no player would automatically be allowed back on the team after serving their suspension; rather, Cronin would have to be fully convinced that the players were remorseful. What a load of bull. That’s about as unbelievable as saying Kate Gosselin didn’t have any plastic surgery done on her face. The players will be back asap, and if not, for a very short time that won’t make up for what the true suspension should be.

In the first game since the brawl, Cincinnati handled Wright State by 20; then-No. 9 and 8-0 Xavier lost to Oral Roberts by 22 at home. Got to love how karmic justice works sometimes.

NFL

Tuesday, James Harrisonwas suspended one game for his vicious

The hit.

helmet-to-helmet hit on defenseless QB Colt McCoy that left him with a concussion. Yes, it was the first suspension arising from a play on the field, but in comparison to Ndamukong Suh‘s two-game suspension for stomping and Harrison’s rap sheet, again, we have a suspension that falls far short of the crime.

One fan made a comment that rings so true. He said that the worst Suh could’ve done with his stomping is bruise the fallen player’s arm; Harrison could’ve, and likely did, give someone long-term brain damage. The linebacker has recorded his fifth flagrant hit on a quarterback, making him and Suh among the league’s dirtiest players.

The unsurprising response from Harrison: it shouldn’t even have been flagged, he appealed the one-game suspension, which he lost and he’s not going to change the way he plays. I fully expect Commissioner Goodell to push the envelope the next time Harrison goes dome-first on a defenseless player. And there will be a next time.

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Face Time: And It Always Goes Back to LeBron

By BJ and Chris Le

Note from BJ: A couple of years ago, I relinquished my reins as co-writer and put the weight of the writing portion on the back of my good buddy, Chris. (As if there’s another portion that sustains a blog.) But god, it felt so good to be liberated from such a failure of a college project and bestow it upon my friend. After all, what are friends for? All this after I came to the realization that this wasn’t turning into what I envisioned from the start. Hell, it can’t even do better than

I kid you not. Every other comment reads "Fire Chris Chase."

Yahoo!’s sports blogs, and while you may think Yahoo! is a legitimate platform to get your fix, you might be surprised to find that they don’t have a very high standard for their sports blogs. I check it everyday, but only so that I could say that Yahoo!’s not so great. A Catch-22, if you will. But what this can do better than is my blog. Chris can write a “half-ass” post once every couple of months and still get more hits than my blog, which I update several times a week. I’m not going to post my blog to avoid “pity” hits so let’s just move on. A little out of bitter jealousy and absurdity, more to feed this inexplicable pattern (which I co-founded, by the way) but most of all, because Chris was too lazy to put this together himself, I am making a one-time appearance to post a one-time chat with my one-time friend. That time being now, of course.

It’s only fitting that it rained on the first day of spring, and so the day was spent “jerk(ing) one” and “watching the tourney.” My words, not his. But not really. We spent the late afternoon unconsciously doing

Consider this Page 3.

our best Bill Simmons imitation, when he exchanges emails with a guest, except we’re hipper and used Google IM. Below is our unedited, unrated conversation, as you can see we aren’t always on the same topic but probably more distractingly, Chris’s plethora of typos. See you all in five years!

me:  Who do you have winning the tourney?

Chris:  ohio st., begrudgingly

me:  Over Duke?

Chris:  yeah

me:  Hahahah.

Chris:  though i like duke’s chances

me:  Despite today’s squeaker?

Chris:  michigan is a good team
great execution
and duke should’ve beaten michigan by double digits
coack k went into stall ball with 8 minutes, i don’t know why
took the air out of the ball and the offense was stagnant

me:  You should always go with your team, even if you don’t think they’ll win. After all, there are always upsets.

Chris:  though i guess you gotta credit michigan’s zone

me:  I hate when coaches do that.
They never go for the kill, play it so safe, especially in football. They play prevent D and give up tons of yardage and easy plays so the team scores anyway.
First game that comes to mind is the Super Bowl when Indy tried to run out the clock in the first half against New Orleans.

Chris:  gotta step on the opponent’s throat

me:  They deserved getting scored on and subsequently, losing that game.

Chris:  i mean, why not when you have momentum

me:  It’s baffling.
I want to be coach.
I think they get way too much credit sometimes.

Chris:  haha, that’d be awesome
i’m kinda with bill simmons, except for a select few, coaches don’t matter

me:  Coach of the year? How the hell does anyone outside of that individual team know how great of a job that coach is doing?

Chris:  either they don’t matter, or they can make you lose

me:  Yes.

Chris:  post season awards are kinda bullshit
media and stat driven
but they’re fun to debate

me:  Except for coaches. I don’t get too excited by them.

Chris:  i’d defend coach pop though

me:  I actually don’t care much for coach hirings/firings, and I probably wouldn’t care to know them if others didn’t care so much.

Chris:  fool is an all-timer and gets overlooked
probably won’t win it this year even though he deserves it

me:  Hm, I think he should be an easy win, actually.
No standout players, and they have easily the best record in the NBA.

Chris:  every loves the bulls and tom thibodeau

me:  They’re like the ’00’s Pistons. Total team package, led by the coach.
Yeah.

Chris:  i’m scared for the spurs in the playoffs, though

me:  Can we agree Rose should be MVP?
I know, I don’t believe their record.
They’re like LeBron’s Cavs.

Chris:  yeah, i think rose has earned it. would like to see him more clutch though

me:  Okay.

Chris:  the spurs’ greatest weapon is their execution and their shooting. that’s all they have. they’re not a match up nightmare at all
and that scares me

me:  Yeah.
How about LeBron for MVP from ’05-08?
The great thing about a superstar leaving his team is that we can see after how valuable he truly was.

Chris:  exactly. carried an abysmal team. he earned those MVPs

me:  That’s right. I think he should have been league MVP six years in a row and counting.

Chris:  hmm
gotta look back
but i hated nash’s second MVP
kobe’s mvp was bullshit too
thought KG/CP3 were more deserving that year

me:  Unfortunately, sports awards are about as uncredible as the Oscar for Best Actress. “Let’s give it to this person this year since they haven’t won yet but has an illustrious career.”
Yep.
CP3 is another player who truly deserves MVP recognition every single year.

Chris:  yeah, i hate it when it’s a career achievement award
amen
i think he’s a perfect point guard
can do anything needed from a point

me:  Yep.
To give you the info. for LeBron’s ’05-08, the years he didn’t win MVP, his Cavs went 2, 2, 2 and 1 in the regular season, and LeBron’s season-lows for the four years in each of the categories was 27.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.0 APG. I rest my case.

Chris:  i can’t believe dirk won it one year…

me:  That was actually all in one year, so the other three years had higher stats. in all three categories.
Career achievement award.

Chris:  where’s lebron on your ballot this year?

me:  Well, I have Rose as the clear one.
I’m sure LeBron’s a top 5, but it’s hard to give him a lot of credit with D-Wade as the league’s 4th-leading scorer and Bosh with the best +/- of the Big Three.
Just off the top of my head.
You?

Chris:  i probably have lebron at 2
to me he’s clearly the best player on the team
kobe, durant and howard round out the top 5

me:  While I don’t doubt that he’s the best player on the team, I feel like he single-handedly lost games for them at the end.
I still believe that the ball should go through Wade at the end of games over James.

Chris:  i think that has a lot to do with the plays but valid point

me:  Bad coach?

Chris:  bad offense sets

me:  Fire the coach.
He doesn’t deserve that team.

Chris:  i still think he deserves another year
unless it’s clear the players don’t respond to him

me:  Nor do they respect him, and when that doesn’t happen, someone’s got to go.
And James ain’t no washed-up Randy Moss.

Chris:  i’d still have the ball in lebron’s hands
not necessarily have him take the last shot, but have him run the play

me:  How are they struggling with offensive sets in game #70?

Chris:  i have no idea
they’re not quite comfortable or in rhythm, though it’s been better lately
they’re running plays, i can see that
but they’ve been foiled by bad passes
miscommunications
that don’t allow them to run the full play
it just breaks down
they need to fix these small mishaps, then they’ll be better

me:  Which is scary that they haven’t reached their offensive potential, and they can still compete in the top games.

Chris:  passes that at a little too low or high, that shit ruins their plays
yeah, but i think it’s been shown they aren’t a perfect fit
bosh, for most of the season at least, has been a small forward in a power forwards body

me:  Too many slashers?
Tell me about it.

Chris:  i thought lebron would play more point

me:  That fake tough guy.

Chris:  and that he’d freakin’ PLAY THE POST

me:  He doesn’t know how to.

Chris:  lebron rarely posts up, which infuriates me
exactly
and whenever he does it’s so awkward
his footwork down low is terrible

me:  Yeah.

Chris:  i’m shocked no one has developed that part of his game
it could cause so many problems

me:  For as great as a player as he is, his offensive arsenal isn’t the best.

Chris:  he does two things: take threes or lower his head and run towards the basket at full speed
he’s not really a slasher, more of a freight train
wade is the best slasher in the game
love his euro step

me:  And most of the time, he doesn’t finish.

Chris:  which goes to show how fucking talented he is taht he can score 27 a night with a limited offense

me:  Exactly.

Chris:  he needs more kobe in him
that thirst
not just to win but get better
view basketball as a craft, not a means to an end

me:  Everyone’s figured that out about him, which isn’t fair because LeBron’s never had a good team until now and even Kobe quits with a shitty team, which we’ve seen.
So I agree with you partially.

Chris:  don’t get me wrong, he’s the most talented player in the league, and i know he wants to win as badly as anyone
i just want to see him to tap into his potential, expand his game, which has been the same for the last four seasons
in 5 years who’s the best player in the league?
lebron? durant? howard?
blake…?

Austin Rivers Will be Good at Duke

By Chris Le

Duke just got a whole lot better and that much more hated, and they were pretty goddamn good and hated to begin with. Austin Rivers, senior shooting guard from Winter Park, Fl., has verbally committed to Duke.

Trust me, this is a big deal.

(Hyperbole warning!)

I’m going to the printers and saying Rivers is the best high school scorer of the last half-decade and will potentially be the most prolific scorer in the NCAAs since Stephen Curry and possibly, the biggest freshman threat since … (seriously, brace yourself!!) … Kevin Durant.

I’ve seen Rivers play about a dozen times, and in the world of armchair analysis—a world about as useless as Adam Morrison, and one in which I unabashedly indulge—a dozen times is enough for a blogger to project a 17-year-old’s collegiate and professional career. God, I love blogs.

Here’s a taste of what Rivers has to offer:

From what I’ve seen, Rivers has no glaring weakness on offense. He’s fundamentally sound—his shooting form (body squared, ball above head, right arm at 90 degrees) is sound and consistent, which lends to his NBA-plus range. He has phenomenal body control and awareness; just watch his step-back, pop-up threes, two of the most difficult maneuvers in basketball. (Seriously, try it out. Dribble down the court at a full sprint, stop on a dime, square your body and pull up for a 23-footer, all in about 0.869 seconds. You’re guaranteed to: a.) lose the dribble, b.) tweak an ankle, or c.) fall on your ass. Rivers executes it consistently, to the point where it’s a viable weapon.  It’s a tremendous display of body manipulation by a teenager who has no business with that much control of his own limbs.) He can drive, usually prefaced by a sick cross over (see: Rivers making John Wall look foolish), and shows shiftiness at the rim. Pay particular attention to Rivers’ floater.  It’s an all but extinct shot in high school, except with short, unathletic white kids who play like girls.  But Rivers pulls off the floater, which requires timing and a delicate touch, with confidence and a languid manliness.  It’s an all-star caliber shot and a testament to his overall feel for the game.  I can’t help but be impressed with how well-groomed he is. And keep in mind this is before he’s played as a senior in high school.  He’s everything you’d expect from the son of Doc Rivers.

(Side note: A question with an obvious answer: Why offer Rivers a scholarship? Hear me out here. Why offer anyone that rich anything free? Rivers’ dad is an NBA coach, whose bed is no doubt cushioned with the many dollars that accompany such a job, and Austin has future millions of his own to enjoy once he becomes the sickest baller in the league. In summation: He’s rich and will be for a long time.  So why not just offer him admission into the school and a spot on the team? I first thought about this question when USC offered a full ride to Romeo Miller—aka Lil Romeo, aka Master P’s son, aka the kid who had his own lakeside mansion and tricked out Benz before he was 13, because, you know, why the hell not? We got money to blow! Of course, it was a package deal; USC wanted uber-recruit DeMar DeRozan, who, at the time, was Lil Romeo’s best friend. But then I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if a wealthy recruit declined scholarship and entered as a walk on? That way the school could offer the open scholarship—of which sports programs have a limited number—to another blue chip prospect, thus strengthening the team’s potential. It would be the college equivalent of Dwyane Wade magnanimously taking less money (cue eye rolling) to create a super team with LeBron and Chris Bosh.

But, as I already admitted, this is a stupid proposition. Why would anyone—even a billionaire—volunteer to pay $40,000 a year on basketball training, uh, I mean, an education, when it’s offered for free? What was I thinking?)

Back to Rivers. Here’s the gist: he can score whenever he wants, wherever he wants. But therein lies what may be his only offensive weakness. He possesses the requisite lack of consciousness in a dominant scorer—the willingness to shoot over double-coverage, the boldness to take the last shot. He’s confident, which I love.  But he’s never seen a shot he didn’t think he could make, especially in high school. He’ll shoot when the situation calls for a simple drive or pass. He’ll launch a quick three on a fast break before initiating the offense.  And that assurance, that latent hubris and greed could be his eventual undoing.  It’s a little too much Gilbert Arenas-syndrome for my liking.  Granted, it’s not quite a red flag.  Not yet.  But he needs to work on shot selection.  Aaaaand if I were picking nits, he could further develop his left-hand finishes.  But everything else, Rivers has down—at an NBA level.

And here’s a scary thought: This year, Duke introduces freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who is being touted as the next Chris Paul. With the ever-looming probability that the NBA will be locked out next year, many stud freshmen who would otherwise enter the draft will stay for their sophomore years.  That means Irving and Rivers might share a backcourt in 2011.  Yikes.

Here’s what to expect from Kyrie Irving:

--

Qualifier: Austin Rivers will be the next Stephen Curry … unless Seth Curry, Stephen Curry’s younger brother, is the next Stephen Curry. (Read that sentence again.)  And Seth Curry is a Dukie; he transferred to Durham last year.  So, not only will Duke have Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers, they’ll also have Seth Curry, the highest-scoring freshman in 2009. Game. Over.

I Like Duke

By Chris Le

Whenever I tell anyone that I’m a Duke fan, two words invariably come back in response.

“Fuck Duke.”

This sentiment, which I now accept and have come to expect, is shared by 99 percent of the free world.  For all it has achieved, Duke basketball wades the same spit-filled waters as the Yankees, the Lakers and Notre Dame football — storied franchises with winning histories.  Wilt Chamberlain, himself a reviled symbol of dominance, once said, “Nobody roots for Goliath.”  Well, since 1991, when Coach K won his first national title, he and his boys have been college basketball’s Goliath.

But I understand the hate.  I honestly do.  Duke has all the ingredients of anathema.  The uppity WASPiness of a privileged and private university in workman-like North Carolina.  The stack of ACC crowns, the fourteen Final Fours, the four national championships.  The admittedly abhorrent Christian Laettner (perhaps, the Blue Devil who singlehandedly initiated this longstanding hate) and the slightly less so J.J. Redick.  But perhaps above all else, it’s  Dick Vitale with his raspy “DUKIIIIEES, BABY!” and the ubiquitous television exposure.  Of Duke’s 40 games this season, 36 were on national television.  They get more face time than Kate Gosselin and Kim Kardashian combined, and they’ve been getting it for a while.

That constant visibility changed my sports life.  It’s the reason why I — someone who has no affiliation with the school — became a Cameron Crazy at heart.

My interest in college sports didn’t really take until the late 1990s.  A late bloomer, you can say.  It was around the time I first played organized basketball — basketball in general, really — and began to love the sport.  I thought about the game during class, played it at recess and lunch, practiced it after school and couldn’t wait to get home to watch the night’s game.  But, I had no loyalties to any team.  My family lived in Milpitas, a small town that borders San Jose (which is famous for the Sharks … and, um … silicon chips … yeah, that’s about it) and is a 45-minute drive south of San Francisco.  But, what kid is cognizant of anything outside their immediate surroundings?  Not me.  I was myopic.  To me, Stanford was more a mall than a university.  I didn’t have a local Division I school to root for.

So, as an impressionable kid with a nascent love for basketball, I began to like the team I most consistently saw on TV — Duke.

And, they just happened to be a good team.  Though, not to the “Duke” standard of good.  From 1994 to 1997, right around when I began to follow the Blue Devils, their reputation was far more threatening than their play.  It was the forgettable era between the Bobby HurleyGrant Hill-Laettner triumvirate and the Jay WilliamsMike Dunleavy Jr.-Shane Battier trio.  The team went a combined 79-40, missing the tournament one year (in which Coach K sat out with a back injury), followed by first and second-round exits, respectively.  Decent for most teams.  Neither bad nor great, but definitely, not up to standard.

Still, powerhouse, middle of the pack or bottom feeder, they were always on TV.  And for a preteen (who was a year or two away from discovering the wonders of masturbation), constant television exposure was enough to make me a fan.  And, I’ve been a fan ever since.

But this year’s National Champion Blue Devils has a special place in my heart.  They’re unlike any previous team.  It’s how far they’ve come, I think, that makes me love them above any other.  It was a “blue”-collar squad with one, maybe two NBA players — a fact that prompted ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb to call them “alarmingly unathletic” (to which Coach K responded: “He should be an expert on alarmingly non-athletic.”  ZIIIING!!).  Gone to the NBA was their most explosive player Gerald Henderson, and their second-best athlete Elliot Williams, who transferred to Memphis due to family illness.  The roster lacked, it appeared, anyone who could create his own shot.  From the get-go, this year’s team was decidedly un-Goliath.

But Coach K never doubted or surrendered, and more importantly, neither did the players.  They stayed in school (a pattern with Dukies) and improved by the day (ditto).

Brian Zoubek, once regarded as a 7’1 piece of turd with a 1-inch vertical, evolved into a beast on the boards and a deciding factor in their championship … while still with a 1-inch vert.

It saw Kyle Singler, the fifth-best ’07 prospect according to Rivals (in one of the deepest, most talented classes ever.  Check some of the names: Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, J.J. Hickson, James Harden, Anthony Randolph, Jerryd Bayless, Patrick Patterson, with Cole Aldrich ranked No. 30, Blake Griffin ranked No. 23 and Evan Turner No. 49.  Holy Shit!), finally living up to his incoming hype.  Singler is the toughest and hardest-working player since Tyler Hansbrough.  I’ve seen the kid land squarely on his chin about six times in his career, and he didn’t so much as check for blood.  Kid is made of nails.

Hardworking senior forward Lance Thomas maxed his potential and played his role of multi-faceted defender to perfection, never once complaining about offensive touches.

It saw Nolan Smith win a title on the 30th anniversary of his late father’s championship with Louisville.

"Oh shit, I forgot I'm unathletic."

And then there’s Jon Scheyer, who fits Gottlieb’s description of “alarmingly unathletic.”  He moves in slow motion, I’ve never seen him dunk once and though I love his stroke, no one will mistake him for Ray Allen.  Many mislabel him as a J.J Redick clone.  I don’t see it — other than both being white, slow and unable to hurdle a stack of phonebooks.  Scheyer is much more well-rounded, capable of driving and finishing at the rim in traffic.  And, he doesn’t quite play with Redick’s cocksure demeanor.  Jon is confident, but he’s not brash.  He’s humble, almost surprised by his own success, and he’s smart, seamlessly converting to the point from shooting guard, and über-clutch.

This team didn’t steamroll opponents with NBA talent, it grinded foes with suffocating defense and hard-nosed rebounding and intelligent execution on offense.  Each player developed and milked every last ounce of ability they had.  It was the anti-Calipari, the anti-Kentucky, the anti-one-and-done; it was a group of juniors and seniors who built chemistry only time could afford, with a desire to win only the experience of heartbreaking disappointment could fuel.

Dare I say: It was the most likable Duke team ever.

On the NCAA Championship

Before the tournament, I vowed to abandon my decision-making process of research, analysis and logic.  “Pure gut,” I told myself.  “That’s all I’m using to fill out my bracket.”

After five rounds, sixty-two games and three weekends, I’ve come to one conclusion: My intuition is as unreliable as my reasoning.

The switch in criteria didn’t help one gawd damn bit.  Here’s how shitty I did.

  • Only one of my Final Four teams made it through—Duke.  That’s a 25 percent success rate for you mathematically disinclined.
  • I had Butler, now playing for the national title, bowing out in the first round and their would-be vanquishers, UTEP, going to the Sweet Sixteen.  Yikes.
  • I also marked Northern Iowa and St. Mary’s for opening day exits.  Ali Farokhmanesh and Omar Sahman then proceeded to send me spiraling into a New Cokelevel of failure.  But even though they busted my bracket, a part of me is happy they did because I love saying their names.  I now gleefully enunciate Ah-lee-fuh-rohk-man-esh and Oh-mahr-sand-man over and over like George Dubya after he learns how to properly pronounce the names of foreign heads of state.  It gives me a sense of worldliness, as if I’m well-traveled.
  • I missed on half of my first day picks.  Not my first round predictions, my first day predictions.  Half.  You know how horrible that is?  It’s not uncommon for people to be perfect after Day One.

I take some solace in this being the most desultory tournament in years.  Some.  But my “gut picks” should have played right into this.  What happened?

A second look at my bracket reveals that I’m incapable of completely divorcing logic from instinct.  Despite my attempts at whimsy, from the Sweet Sixteen on, I pretty much had chalk.   They were all 1 and 2 seeds.  But recalling my pre-tournament thoughts, I did feel the urge to bounce Villanova early.  I was tempted to eliminate Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen.  My subconscious just wouldn’t let me.  Logic didn’t allow me to pick teams that were inferior (at least, on paper).

It’s the burden of knowledge, really.  The knowledge that higher seeds truly are better teams.  Ninety-five percent of the time, that’s not up for debate.  One-seeds are better than 2-seeds, 2-seeds are better than 3-seeds, and so on.  The tournament favorites have superior talent and have proven themselves against tougher opposition — thus, the higher ranking.  So needless to say, I trust the selection committee.

That’s the problem, though.  Picking upsets is difficult when I agree with the seedings.  But come March, every year, I fail to realize that selecting chalk is only logical under the assumption that every team plays to its full potential.  And if the NCAA proves anything, it’s that teams rarely bring their A-game every round.

So, I’m not gonna pretend to know whether Duke or Butler will win the NCAA title.  I’m not even guessing.  Been humbled too many times, burned too often and this tournament proven too erratic.  No, I’m just gonna sit back and enjoy an entertaining and, no doubt, unpredictable game.

Picking March Madness

By Chris Le

I’m a rationalist.  Rarely do my instincts usurp my brain.  I research, prepare, analyze — and then I take action.  That’s how I’m programmed to perform in life.

It’s no different when I do sports picks.

In Marches past, I would research — by that, I mean look up stats, strength of schedule, level of NBA talent, etc. — for every team I hadn’t regularly watched through the early season and conference play.  Only after long periods of study did I make my picks.

Yet I endured year after year of red-marked brackets.

A strange pattern had persisted.  I began to notice, as did everyone, that the office pool winner was often ignorant of the college basketball landscape, and moreover, frequently oblivious to the game of basketball itself.

How the hell does this happen?

The NCAA tournament is the most random event in sports.  Games are played at odd and indefinite hours (like in any tournament, you take the court only when the previous game is over), in foreign arenas built for things other than basketball, where background- and crowd-depth sometimes require an acclimation period longer than the scheduled pregame shoot around.  These teenagers and twenty-year-olds must face unfamiliar teams, or in some cases, teams never before heard of.  Factor in this year’s lack of a dominant sure-fire title favorite and the field’s relative weakness compared to years past, and it’s a perfect formula for a clusterfuck.

There’s a reason it’s called March Madness — and I expect this year to be as unpredictable as Britney Spears’ mental psyche.

And that explains the fruitlessness of “expert” picks and the unforeseen success of Daisy, the 33-year-old soccer mom who works with you.  The basketball neophyte is unburdened by logic and free from the confusing variables of matchups and the X’s and O’s.  The ignoramus opens himself to the randomness of March Madness.

This year, I’m taking on the mentality of a novice.  No research.  Just what I already know, and the feeling in my gut.  And with the games about which I have absolutely no idea, I’m flipping a coin.

Hell, I can’t do any worse than years past.  Here I go.

First Round Upsets

(10) Georgia Tech over (7) Oklahoma St.

(12) UTEP over (5) Butler

(10) Florida over (7) BYU

(12) Cornell over (5) Temple

(11) Washington over (6) Marquette

(9) Louisville over (8) California

Second Round Upsets

(5) Michigan St. over (4) Maryland

(12) UTEP over (4) Butler

(12) Cornell over (4) Wisconsin

(5) Texas A&M over (4) Purdue

Sweet Sixteen

Kansas over Michigan St.

Georgetown over Ohio St.

Syracuse over UTEP

Kansas St. over Pittsburgh

Kentucky over Cornell

West Virginia over New Mexico

Duke over Texas A&M

Villanova over Baylor

Elite Eight

Kansas over Georgetown

Kansas State over Syracuse

Kentucky over West Virginia

Duke over Villanova

Final Four

Kansas over Kansas St.

Kentucky over Duke

National Championship

Kentucky over Kansas

Top Freshmen

By Chris Le

College basketball, for me, is about the freshmen.  It’s the kids—and I can’t overemphasize kids—so precocious that they leave a mark on the national stage.  It’s like witnessing a childhood Mozart fiddle with the piano or an adolescent Bobby Fischer pacing over a chessboard.  An eighteen-year-old who commands the college game at an All-American level is a glimpse into the future—the NBA future.

Some prospects are obvious stars, indulging in the formality of the NCAA one-year policy; others have dormant potential ready to be realized; and then there are the “left field” prospects—unrecruited, no-star rating—who make a name with four years of hardwood elbow grease.

Either way, it’s fun to witness.

But I’m no Miss Cleo.  I can’t foresee the ugly duckling turned swan three years down the road.  But I know a stud when I see one.  So here are the can’t miss prospects—the players who’ll make an immediate impact.  Here are the best freshmen in the nation.

1. John Wall, PG, Kentucky – Wall needs to be seen, not described in words.  “He’s incredible with the ball.”  “He’s long, athletic, and possesses flair.”  Such platitudes are insufficient.  But I’m a writer, so when forced to use words this is how I best describe the freshman prodigy: Seeing him weave down the court, you forget that he’s dribbling a basketball.  What do I mean by this?  To start, Wall has never met anyone faster than him; his speed alone leaves you wondering how a basketball can keep up with him.  He runs and spins and cuts through crowds like Barry Sanders on the gridiron, and somehow never loses court vision or control of the ball or his body.  Get used to seeing him “Usain Bolt”-passed everyone and unleash southpaw tomahawk dunks or zip off-hand, wrap-around passes through traffic.  Oh, and did I mention he’s right-handed?  Ambidextrous to the max.

Wall, in short, will be a better freshman than both Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose.  And he’s the best prospect I’ve seen since LeBron James.  Enough superlatives for you?  My only qualm is his predilection for mid-air passes.  Which is, naturally, a sign of his creativity and visual acuity, but could also result in turnovers.

That being said, Wall will lead a stacked Kentucky team to an NCAA championship appearance—just before he becomes the number one overall pick in the NBA draft.

This video is straight FILTHY:

NBA Comparison: Derrick Rose/Rajon Rondo

2. Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech – How good is Favors?  He’s a better prospect than North Carolina’s Ed Davis, whose potential has every NBA scout up-tucking their woodies (Favors is a top-five lock, and maybe number two overall after Wall).  Favors may be, by midseason, the best post-player in the ACC, and he’s only a freshman.  Already equipped with a man’s body in a conference of young men, Favors could average a double-double adding two or three blocks for good measure.  Everything is there—a quick first and second jump to block or rebound, the strength to overpower at both ends and a latent mean streak. All he needs to be an All-American is a legitimate go-to move on the block.

NBA Comparison: Josh Smith/Amare Stoudemire

3. Avery Bradley, SG, Texas – Bradley is a rare commodity in high school recruiting.  He scores points in bunches, yes, and he can paint the ceiling during dunks.  But those qualities aren’t rare; there’s a Vince Carter clone in every recruiting class.  What differentiates Bradley—what has him looking more like an upperclassman than a frosh—is his developed mid-range jumper and his love for everything defensive.  In high school, these tools are left on the shelf to collect dust in favor of one-on-one skills and reverse slams.  Not so with Bradley.  He’s got the condor’s wingspan and necessary tenacity of a lock-down defender, and he’s bouncy and ballsy enough to swat much larger opponents, head on, Dwyane Wade-style.  And it seems he takes pride in making life miserable for the ball handler, as if he wants defense to be his hallmark.  Like I said, a rare commodity in freshmen basketball.  No one in this class goes harder, and because of that, Bradley has a chance to be special.

NBA Comparison: Defensive-minded Monta Ellis/Jerryd Bayless

4. Kenny Boynton, PG, Florida – Boynton is the best score-first point guard in the class.  Hold that—qualification isn’t needed; he’s the best scorer.  Period.  The physical qualities are obvious.  He’s strong enough to finish at the rim, skilled enough to execute the pull-up jumper.  But more than anything, I love his demeanor.  He carries himself like a scorer.  He dribbles down the court with an air of “I’m scoring and—you know and I know—there’s nothing you can do about it.”  I’m not a sports psychologists or Bill Simmons (who thinks he’s a sports psychologist), but Boynton has the look of being fearless in the clutch, heartless in closing out.  On a Florida team now without Nick Calathes and devoid of an offensive threat, Boynton, who has range like Tiger Woods, could lead all freshmen in scoring.

NBA Comparison: Allen Iverson

5. Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinatti –  You may be thinking “Why Cincinatti?”  Why did a New York legend, who broke all state scoring records and earned a legit streetball nickname (“Born Ready”), choose Cincinatti over powerhouses North Carolina or Kentucky?  The answer: Because he has a Kanye-like sense of entitlement, and top-tier programs didn’t dare touch him.  This kid did, in fact, come from the same Lincoln High School as Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair—uh oh.  But this is college ball, not the pros.  A selfish me-first scorer can lead a team to relatively high heights, especially if it’s a talent like Stephenson.  Selfish or not, the kid can play ball.  Well, “kid” is a misnomer seeing how he’s 6’5”, 210 with a deceptively quick first step.  He looks like a grown man, even if he has a child’s mentality.

NBA Comparison: Brandon Roy