The Confidential’s Very Own Sweet Sixteen Rankings

Yesterday, the Confidential noted that the new rage was rating the Sweet 16 teams.  The pundits have had their chance.  Now it is time for the Confidential to share its rankings.

  1. KENTUCKY.  The best, healthiest team.  End of story.
  2. MICHIGAN STATE.  If they make the Final Four, they will deserve it… Louisville, Marquette, and Florida are all playing good basketball right now.
  3. OHIO STATE.  Got some luck when Syracuse lost Fab Melo.  Will they overlook in-state rival Cincinnati?  They better not.
  4. NORTH CAROLINA.  Ohio has been a nice story, but North Carolina missing one of its 5 future NBA players makes them merely a speed bump.
  5. KANSAS.  North Carolina State is playing some good basketball, but Kansas has more experienced talent.
  6. WISCONSIN.  Gets the perfect draw in Syracuse–a team that thrives on turnovers, which Wisconsin never does.
  7. SYRACUSE.  However, if Syracuse can force turnovers, Wisconsin will have to hit a lot of 3′s to win the game.
  8. MARQUETTE.  Playing outstanding basketball right now.
  9. BAYLOR.  Nice draw with Xavier–like Ohio, a run that is probably ready to come to an end.
  10. LOUISVILLE.  If anyone can challenge Tom Izzo as a coach, it is Rick Pitino.
  11. CINCINNATI.  This is the Bearcats time to shine.  Beat Ohio State and they will be in-state kings.
  12. FLORIDA.  Have played good against two overmatched teams.  Marquette posts a real test.
  13. INDIANA.  Not fully healthy.  And they face Kentucky.  And Kentucky is motivated for revenge.  It was fun while it lasted.
  14. NORTH CAROLINA STATE.  If everyone else has them at #14, so should the Confidential.
  15. XAVIER.  They can beat Baylor.  It just seems unlikely–the Bears are battle-tested.
  16. OHIO.  Great season, ending on a very high note.  Even a wounded North Carolina is a tough team to beat.

So there it is.  Criticize aways.

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The Pundits Chime in on the ACC Sweet Sixteen Teams

The Sweet Sixteen is the major sporting event taking place right now.  Especially now that Peyton Manning has decided to try to replace Jesus Tim Tebow in Denver.  The pundits have much to say about the ACC teams’ chances at getting to the Elite Eight and beyond.

For some reason, the opinion-makers have decided to rank the 16 teams still alive.  ESPN’s Jason King has this to say about each team and its ranking:

4. North Carolina: Even with point guard Kendall Marshall less than 100 percent — or perhaps out altogether — it’d be foolish to ignore North Carolina’s size, experience and, most of all, talent. Post players Tyler Zeller, John Henson and James Michael McAdoo are all projected as lottery picks in the NBA draft. So, too, is small forward Harrison Barnes, who creates matchup problems for almost every opponent. North Carolina will have a hard time winning it all without Marshall at his best. But a Final Four certainly isn’t out of the question.

8. Syracuse: Thursday’s near-loss to No. 16 seed UNC Asheville created some serious concerns about the Orange’s ability to reach the Final Four without suspended center Fab Melo. Even though Syracuse bounced back with a convincing win over K-State — which was without Jamar Samuels — Syracuse doesn’t have the look of a Final Four team. Jim Boeheim’s squad hasn’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2003. I think it will break that trend this season and get to the Elite Eight.

14. North Carolina State: The team a lot of people think didn’t deserve to be in the tournament advanced to the Sweet 16 by defeating two higher seeds (San Diego State and Georgetown). Lorenzo Brown averaged 7.5 assists in the two wins, while C.J. Leslie contributed 14.5 points. This is a talented team with loads of length and athleticism. The Wolfpack could give Kansas trouble.

Matt Nortander of CBS as a different set of rankings:

4. Syracuse.  I have bailed a little bit but not that much. I had Syracuse in the Elite Eight before the Melo news and didn’t remove the Orange even after the sophomore center was deemed ineligible. Let us not forget how this is Jim Boeheim’s deepest team. And that Kris Joseph is now pretty incredibly underrated.

5. North Carolina.  Can’t put UNC in the top four if I don’t know if Kendall Marshall is playing. Marshall is motor oil for that offense. Stillman White is about to become the most well-known backup since Curtis Painter. Carolina has all that talent, but its offense is completely different without Marshall’s NBA-level court vision and passing ability. I don’t think the Tar Heels can win the tournament if he’s out for the rest of it. Fortunately, UNC gets a break with Ohio in its regional semi.

14. North Carolina State.  I love the upsets no one calls. The ones that aren’t even incredibly shocking but still camouflaged in the bracket like a lioness in dying beige African vegetation. N.C. State in the Sweet 16 was not one of those upsets. Many people had the Wolfpack getting past San Diego State, and a large subset of those people went a step further and put Mark Gottfried’s team into the regional semifinals. State fans have waited a long time for this. And now they’ll demand it every year, lest they fire another coach who can’t make it happen. Unreasonable expectations! Yes!

Apparently, the consensus is that North Carolina State has little chance of making the Final Four.   George Mason, Butler, and Virginia Commonwealth should provide North Carolina State all the encouragement it needs when it takes on Kansas in its Sweet Sixteen game.

Other Post-Season Games

While everyone awaits the Sweet 16 matchups on Thursday and Friday, there are two other ACC teams in post-season action: Miami and Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately, one of those two teams had its season end last night.

Miami’s season came to an end with a 78-60 loss to Minnesota in the NIT.  As Miami was the #2 seed and playing at home, while Minnesota was a #6 seed, this was an upset.  A convincing upset.  Minnesota jumped out quickly, taking a 12-point advantage over Miami into halftime.  The Hurricanes never recovered.  The team shot 34.4% from the field for the game, including 16.6% from three-point range.  Minnesota finished the game with a 37-19 rebounding edge.  Dion Brown led Miami with 16 points.  The Hurricanes finish the season 20-13.

In the College Basketball Invitational, Pittsburgh defended its home court by defeating Princeton, 82-61.  Pitt jumped out to a 49-25 halftime lead.  For the game, Pitt held Princeton to just 41.1% shooting.  Several Panthers finished in double-figures in scoring:

  • Lamar Patterson, 19 points
  • Tray Woodall, 15 points
  • Nasir Robinson, 12 points
  • Talib Zanna, 11 points
  • Ashton Gibbs, 10 points

With an offensive performance like that, Princeton was no match for Pitt.  Princeton was also outrebounded 37-26.  All in all it was a vintage Pittsburgh performance.  With the win, the Panthers improve to 19-16 on the season.  They will face Butler in the semifinals on Wednesday.

The ACC and the Post-Season: Update 5

Sunday featured three ACC teams trying to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.  Unfortunately, only two of them made it.  And, for one, it was a bittersweet victory.

The first game of the day was a success as #11 North Carolina State upset #3 Georgetown, 66-63.   C.J. Williams, Scott Wood and C.J. Leslie each scored 14 points to lead North Carolina State into the Sweet Sixteen.  Lorenzo Brown had a nice game too, with 12 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 key free throws down the stretch.  North Carolina State will play @2 seed Kansas.

The second game of the day was a bittersweet result for North Carolina.  The #1 seed Tar Heels had little trouble defeating #8 Creighton, 87-73.  John Henson returned from injury with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.  But North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall broke a wrist–putting him in jeopardy for future games.  Marshall scored 18 points and dished out 11 assists.  And 3 other Tar Heels scored in double-digits too.  Creighton was held to 41.2% shooting and rebounded by 9.  All in all, a very solid effort for the Tar Heels.  Next up is the #13 seed Ohio, who defeated #12 South Florida.

The final game of the day featured #3 Florida State and #6 seed Cincinnati.  Unfortunately, Cincinnati defeated Florida State 62-56, ending the Seminoles season.  Poor shooting plagued Florida State as they hit only 38% of its attempts from the floor.  In addition, Florida State committed 17 turnovers.  Luke Loucks led the Seminoles with 14 points.  Michael Snaer was only 3 for 9 from three-point range, but rebounded from his scoreless opening round game to add 11 points.

After today’s results, the ACC is down to North Carolina, and North Carolina State, as well as Syracuse.

The ACC and the Post-Season: Update 4

The Big Dance is now down to 24 teams, as half the Sweet Sixteen is set.  There are four ACC teams left: Syracuse, North Carolina, North Carolina State, and Florida State.

Syracuse was the first team to make the Sweet Sixteen, defeating Kansas State, 75-58.  The game was actually quite close in the first half–although both teams traded significant runs.  But the second-half was all Syracuse, as the depth of the Orange wore down the Wildcats.  Dion Waiters came off the bench to lead Syracuse with 18 points, while Scoop Jardine led the starters with 16 points.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was the decent play of freshman center Rakeem Christmas, who had 8 points and 11 rebounds.  All in all, Syracuse looked substantially more like a #1 seed than they have in weeks.  They will move to play #4 seed Wisconsin on Thursday.

Sunday will feature three ACC teams trying to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.  The first game of the day will be the 12:15 pm matchup (on CBS) between #11 North Carolina State and #3 Georgetown.  At 5:15 pm,  CBS will also televise the game between #1 seed North Carolina and #8 Creighton.  Although the talk on Selection Sunday was the potential of Creighton defeating North Carolina in a shootout–ESPN.com’s Giant Killers Blog gives Creighton a 2.7% chance of winning.  Finally, at 9:30 pm, TBS will show #3 Florida State play #6 seed Cincinnati.  Both teams looked great in their conference tournaments, but then failed to put together a solid 40 minutes in the opening round.  All three games should be fairly exciting.

Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas slams one home. Photo courtesy of Dennis Nett/The Post Standard 2011. See http://www.syracuse.com/axeman/index.ssf/2012/03/syracuse_basketball_vs_kansas.html

 

The ACC and the Post-Season: Update 3

Well, it is College Basketball Tournament season.  The Big Dance is already down to 32 teams.  As noted earlier, Duke is not among them.

But it was not all bad for the Atlantic Coast Conference on March 16, 2012.  Even without John Henson, #1 North Carolina had no trouble defeating #16 seed Vermont, 77-58.  Tyler Zeller had 17 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Tar Heels.  In Henson’s absence, James Michael McAdoo started and scored a season-high 17 points also.  With the win, North Carolina advances to play #8 Creighton, who defeated Alabama 58-57.

Perhaps the most impressive win of the day for the ACC was #11 seed North Carolina State upsetting #6 seed San Diego State, 79-65.  While not an extraordinary seed difference, nobody expected the Wolfpack to run away with the game.  After all, they were on the wrong side of the bubble for most of Championship week.  But North Carolina State shot an amazing 58.5% from the field en route to the victory.  Richard Howell led the team with 22 points, but State picked up big contributions from Lorenzo Brown (17 points), C.J. Leslie (15 points) and Scott Wood (10 points).  The Wolfpack moves on to play #3 seed Georgetown, who finally got over their first round issues by defeating #14 seed Belmont, 74-59.

The most disappointing performance of the day for the ACC was not Duke’s loss, but #10 Virginia’s utter collapse against #7 Florida, 71-45.  While the Gators have more talent than the average #7 seed, they have not played to potential very often at all.  But a 41-23 second-half made this an unexpected blowout, ending Virginia’s surprisingly good season.  As usual, it was Mike Scott leading the way for Virginia with 15 points.

The final game of the day involved #3 Florida State and #14 St. Bonaventure.  Give credit to the Bonnies for making this game close throughout, but the Seminoles ultimately prevailed 66-63.  While Michael Snaer has been the hero for most of the season, he was absent on Friday and held scoreless on 0 for 7 shooting.  Bernard James stepped up to lead the Seminoles with 19 points.  Ugly as it was, Florida State moves on to play #6 seed Cincinnati, who defeated Texas 65-59.

 

Hide Dick Vitale’s Shoelaces–Duke Eliminated By Lehigh

The Big Dance came very close to a historic upset on Thursday with Syracuse’s decision to play terribly for 35 minutes against North Carolina Asheville, but Friday produced one of the bigger upsets in NCAA Tournament History as #2 seed Duke lost to Lehigh, 75-70.  It was only the sixth time that a 15 seed has beaten a #2 (the fifth time was earlier Friday when Norfolk State defeated Missouri).  The end result, however, is that Duke is out of the tournament.

Non-Duke ACC fans will savor this–but Lehigh actually had more free throw attempts than Duke.  Significantly more–37-23.  But the real reason for the Lehigh win was the play of C.J. McCollum.  The country’s fifth leading scorer contributed 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists.  Duke had no answer for him.  Plus, Duke was 6 for 26 from three-point range.  In losing, Duke squandered 19 point games by Mason Plumlee and Austin Rivers.  The upset should not come as a total surprise as this year’s edition of Duke simply lacked the magic of prior seasons.  Losing at home to Florida State and Miami is just not typical.  And, in atypical fashion, Duke was eliminated from the Big Dance in the opening round for only the second time in 16 years.

So with Duke gone, someone keep Dukie V Dick Vitale on suicide watch.

The Media Needs to Lay Off Syracuse

Look, the Confidential has been critical of Syracuse and Jim Boeheim this season.  See here.  But, after Syracuse’s 72-65 win over North Carolina Asheville, the media uproar over calls down the stretch suggests that the media has trouble being intellectually honest when dealing with issues related to Syracuse.

There is no doubt that there were some calls down the stretch in that game that were “controversial.”  However, being “controversial” does not make them inaccurate.  CBS.com itemizes the so called “controversial” calls.  The two calls that have the interwebs panties-bunched are a lane violation call and an out-of bounds call.

As it relates to the lane violation, CBS states as follows:

First, there was a lane-violation call on J.P. Primm that negated a missed free throw by Scoop Jardine, leading to two points from at the charity stripe.

According to the rule, it was indeed a lane violation, although it could have gone uncalled without much notice.

Could have gone uncalled without much notice?  So could a holding call in football.  That does not make it fair or right.  In any event, it would appear that CBS’s position is that the referees should not have enforced a clear lane violation rule.  The logic is apparently that none of the guys paid by CBS to call the game understood the rule.  Or the logic is that few players are dumb enough to commit the violation.  CBS does not explain why two different players for North Carolina Ashville violating a rule should go unpunished.  CBS should just be embarrassed that nobody on its television team knew the rule.

ESPN knows the rule.  The referees know the rule.  Official Ed Corbett had this to say: “It was a clear (lane) violation. The player released early, before the ball hit the rim. We’ve since watched the replay 20 times and it was the right call.”  The criticism of the referees on this issue is simply wrong.  Suggesting that Syracuse as the beneficiary of a bad call is also wrong.  If North Carolina Asheville does not want to follow the rules, that is their choice.

To be sure, the out-of-bounds call was impossible to understand.  What was impossible to understand is why a foul was not called on North Carolina Asheville.  While the ball went out of bounds off of Syracuse’s Brandon Triche, he was knocked to the ground after being hit in the midsection by a defender.  Not contact–knocked to the ground like a wide receiver being tackled by a defensive back.  There is no gray area here.  If Triche had just launched a three-pointer, he would be shooting free throws.  So, while the call was incorrect, the result was absolutely correct to the extent that North Carolina Asheville did not get the ball.  What they were deprived of is Syracuse’s best free throw shooter getting two shots from the charity stripe.

In fact, the only thing that CBS did get right is that the referees missed a goaltending call.  That did deprive North Carolina Asheville of a bucket.  But CBS just ignored the referees’ mishandling of the end of the first-half.  With two seconds on the shot clock, Triche caught a rebound.  With one second left, Triche was fouled while going up for a shot–before the clock read zero, the referee had made the call.  Instant replay suggested that the ball had not left Triche’s hand before the basket was scored.  So it was certainly appropriate for the basket to have been negated.  But what happened to the foul?  Triche–again, Syracuse’s best free throw shooter–should have had free throws.  Plus, a North Carolina Asheville player avoided a foul call.  In the end, both teams caught a break and that is just how games can go.

For the media to try to weaken this Syracuse win is indefensible.  It is also inexplicable because Syracuse played awful.  There are plenty of talking points as to why it seems unlikely that Syracuse will even see next week.  A few calls did not cause North Carolina Asheville to lose.  North Carolina Asheville did.  That may not mean that Syracuse deserved to win, but it does not mean that Syracuse did not deserve its win.  As Syracuse legendary coach Jim Boeheim accurately noted–the scoreboard tells the story.  It’s time for the media to move on to a real story.

The ACC and the Post-Season: Update

Well, it is College Basketball Tournament season.  The Big Dance commences in earnest today.

Before reaching the real March Madness… did you know that Pittsburgh is still playing basketball?  The Panthers defeated Wofford on Tuesday in something called the CBI, 81-63.  And Miami defeated Valparaiso in the NIT on Wednesday, 66-50.  Congratulations for those teams taking advantage of their post-season opportunities.

As for the Big Dance, all the current ACC teams begin play on Friday.  So here is what ACC fans should be watching for Thursday:

Syracuse.  The Orange are going to be playing without the Big East defensive player of the year, Fab Melo.  Will the Melo-less Orange be the first #1 seed to ever lose to a #16 seed?  North Carolina-Asheville is not your ordinary 16 seed.  The Bulldogs stayed with North Carolina State (lost by 9), battled North Carolina (lost by 16), gave UConn a run (lost by 10), and narrowly lost to Tennessee (lost by 4).  They also beat Utah by 16.  This is not a team that will shrink from Syracuse.  However, even without Melo, Syracuse would have been a 3 or 4 seed this year.  In fact, without the expectation of improvement by Melo, Syracuse was a top 5 team in the preseason.  The goal here is to win and develop the ability to play without Melo.  If so, Syracuse still has the tools to make a decent run.

 

 

 

Adjust Your Brackets–Fab Melo is Out for Syracuse

The 2011-2012 Syracuse basketball team has been a rollercoaster.  The latest development is Syracuse’s announcement that Center Fab Melo will miss the NCAA tournament for what is reportedly an academic eligibility issue.  While some had questioned whether this Syracuse team would get to the Final Four with Melo–at least the way it had played lately–there is little doubt that a Melo-less Orange team is not a national championship contender.

Of course, the first question is why Melo is ineligible?  Do not expect clarity on that issue, as ESPN reported the following: “‘Given University policy and federal student privacy laws, no further details can be provided at this time,’ the Syracuse website said.”  So do not expect a statement from Syracuse on the issue.

Also, initial ESPN reports that the NCAA had determined Melo to be ineligible are also not true, as ESPN later clarified as follows: “Melo was declared ineligible by Syracuse, not the NCAA, according to Bob Williams, the NCAA vice president of communications.”

The media is also inconsistent as to whether this announcement was related to Melo’s three-game suspension from earlier in the year.  ESPN’s Dana O’Neill reported that a source indicated that Melo was declared ineligible “for academic issues related to those that forced him to sit three games earlier in the season.”  In contrast, CBS’s Seth Davis is apparently reporting that the suspension is in regard to an entirely different issue.  See Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician for more on this conflict.

Regardless of the “why,” the impact of Melo’s absence huge.  He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.  And his screens were a valuable part of the Syracuse offense.  Meanwhile, he was the only Syracuse player that was even competent rebounding.  So, while Syracuse could still make a deep run–it is difficult to envision this team surviving such a major loss this late in the season.  It will take a great effort by the remaining players just to make it to the Final Four.