Wishlist: XI Games to Hope For

CBS will air the NCAA Tournament Selection Show at 6:00 p.m. today and unveil the NCAA Tournament bracket. The following are the Top 11 games that the bracket might bring:

11. Cincinnati v. Xavier: Because we’ll never get Pacquiao – Mayweather, we may as well watch this again.

The NCAA Selection Committee is unlikely to share this sentiment, however, and will probably not even let these teams play on the same side of the country, let alone the same side of the bracket.

10. Baylor v. Louisville: One word: uniforms.

This was the baddest man in college basketball when he played for UNLV. He was also the first pick in the 1991 NBA Draft.

9. Duke v. UNLV: These two teams haven’t played each other since their 1991 tournament semifinal game. Duke won that game en route to the 1991 title, getting some revenge for  the 1990 championship game in which UNLV waxed the Blue Devils 103-73.

This season, the Runnin’ Rebels have been ranked as high as 11th in the AP poll, but they are a far cry from Jerry Tarkanian’s juggernaut teams that featured Larry JohnsonStacey Augmon, and Greg Anthony.

Still, it would be fun to see the teams square off again.

8. Notre Dame v. Florida State: These schools renewed their storied football rivalry a few months ago in the Champs Sports Bowl. Florida State took that one 18-14.

Despite repeated gridiron match-ups, Florida State and Notre Dame have faced each other in exactly one basketball game: in last year’s NCAA Tournament, ten-seed Florida State knocked off the second-seeded Irish 71-57 and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

I apparently missed this game last year: maybe I will get another chance this March.

7. Davidson v. Harvard: The “Harvard of the South” against the actual, well, Harvard.

10 out of 10 bracketologists agree: if Michigan State and UNC play each other in the Big Dance, the game will definitely not be played on an aircraft carrier. Photo by Mike Blake (Reuters), courtesy of nytimes.com.

6. Michigan State v. UNC: The Tar Heels have won the last six meetings between these programs. Included in that streak are the 2009 national title game and the first game of this season, which was played on the deck of an aircraft carrier in San Diego (I am not making that up).

Michigan State is 3-11 all-time against UNC and last defeated the Tar Heels on November 29, 2000. Here’s hoping Izzo and the Spartans get another crack at Ol’ Roy’s bunch (and come out on the right side).

Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans (5) has the second-best haircut in college basketball. He is also the Badgers' second-leading scorer. Coincidence? AP photo, courtesy of bostonherald.com.

5. U.Va. v. Wisconsin: If you are a fan of offense, you may want to skip this one. Through games of March 8, Wisconsin led the nation in scoring defense, allowing opponents just 51.9 points per game. U.Va. was second, giving up 53.2 per contest. (Word to the wise: bet the under.)

This match-up would also pit U.Va. head coach Tony Bennett against his former boss, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan.

4. Wichita State v. Kansas: Wichita State is the defending NIT Champion and looks solid to earn an at-large bid out of the Missouri Valley Conference. This is a David and Goliath in-state rivalry that was last played on January 6, 1993, a 103-54 home victory for Kansas. Kansas holds the all-time edge over Shockers 12-2, so it would be cool to see Wichita State with a chance to notch some measure of payback when the stakes are high.

Interestingly, Wichita State’s first victory in the series came on March 20, 1981, when the two teams played in the NCAA tournament. Wichita State won that game 66-65 and advanced to the Elite Eight.

Bleedin’ Kansas, indeed.

Big brother. Photo by Nick Laham, courtesy of foxsports.com.

3. Indiana v. UNC: I’m normally not much for “storyline” games, and it pains me to include UNC twice, but this one could be great. Not quite the Civil War, but still brother against brother. Which Zeller would you bet on: ACC Player of the Year Tyler, or Big Ten Freshman of the Year Cody?

Little brother. Photo by Andy Lyons (Getty Images North America).

2. VCU v. Missouri: The old boxing adage says that styles make fights. These teams’ styles are opposite sides of the same coin. I will be glued to the television if the Tigers’ potent four-guard offense is matched up against the Rams’ “havoc” pressure defense.

The entertainment value in this one would be through the roof, and there is a bonus for novelty as well: the teams have played only once previously, when Missouri defeated VCU 71-66 on December 9, 1971. Rams coach Shaka Smart had not even been born when that game was played.

1. Kentucky v. Syracuse: These two teams have been 1 and 1(a) all season long, so it would be a worthy (if unlikely) national final. Kentucky coach John Calipari is probably the best current college coach not to have won a national championship; Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim formerly held that distinction (and should be forever grateful to Carmelo Anthony for lifting that albatross).

It would also be interesting to see how Kentucky’s freshman sensation Anthony Davis would fare against burly Fab Melo of the Orange.

Check your bracket tonight to see if any of these might actually come to pass.

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Bearly Visible

There is plenty of televised basketball for your viewing pleasure this week, as the conference tournaments are getting into full swing and Selection Sunday looms large. If you caught any of Thursday’s action, you might have seen the Adidas alternate uniforms sported by the Baylor Bears and the Louisville Cardinals. These silks would have set Press Maravich’s heart aflutter!

Baylor guard Pierre Jackson (55) went airborne during the Bears' Big 12 Tournament victory over Kansas State. Photo by Shane Keyser, courtesy of the Kansas City Star.

Adidas claims that the new uniforms “are on average 28 percent lighter” than the teams’ previous uniforms. My mother would probably say that they are also 1,000% louder.

Baylor’s “highlighter” look was a popular topic today on sports radio and on the Twitter machine. In the actual game, Baylor defeated Kansas State 82-74. Baylor’s 6-11 sophomore forward Perry Jones III had a good game in the first half, with 21 points (8-8 from the field) and 8 rebounds. Jones finished the game with 31 and 11.

Video highlights of the Baylor uniforms team in action are available here (click the “Videos” tab).

Peyton Siva of Louisville drives to the tin. Photo by Frank Franklin II (AP), courtesy of chron.com.

Louisville also won on Thursday while wearing new duds. The Cardinals topped Marquette 84-71 at Madison Square Garden and advanced to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. Were the lighter uniforms responsible for the win? Possibly, but the 26 Marquette turnovers forced by the Cardinals may have played a larger role. (Louisville committed 19 turnovers of its own, though.)

According to Adidas, the teams will continue to wear the uniforms through the NCAA tournament. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Baylor and Louisville to meet up in the Big Dance later this month. Since the yellow look is Baylor’s home uniform, and Louisville wears the red on the road, a tournament matchup between the teams would feature both of these uniforms. Do not adjust your TV set!

For a look at the Lousiville-Marquette highlights, click here.

To anyone at Baylor or Adidas who might be reading: if a pair of those neon socks showed up in my mailbox, I would not send them back.

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Where’s Waldo Faldo?

Who says the NBA isn’t family-friendly?

Tip of the cap to Jimmy Traina.

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Memphis Style

The Memphis Tigers’ road throwback uniforms, proudly worn by Tarik Black (10), Ferrakohn Hall (0), and Will Barton (5). Photo by Mark Weber, courtesy of commercialappeal.com.

The recent post on the Memphis Grizzlies’ throwback uniforms seems to be generating a lot (hey, it’s all relative) of traffic. It remains to be seen whether the interwebs are equally curious about uniforms that are actually cool, but here goes.

Tarik Black (10) sends one home in Memphis’ season-opening victory over Belmont. Photo by Mike Brown, courtesy of commercialappeal.com.

Several times this year, the Memphis Tigers have worn throwback uniforms based on the Tigers’ uniforms from the 1972-1973 season. I’m partial to the blue road version, but the white home version that Memphis debuted in the home opener against Belmont caused a craze. As Jason Smith reported, Tigers coach Josh Pastner was deluged with requests from fans who wanted to buy one of the jerseys, so he encouraged them to email the university president to ask that they be made available to the public. No word on how many emails Dr. Shirley Raines received, but I couldn’t find the jerseys for sale in the Tigers’ online store.

New Mexico’s A.J. Hardeman (00) takes it strong against Wyoming. Photo by Jim Thompson (AP), courtesy of trib.com.

Several college teams have gone with the throwback look this year, but the New Mexico Lobos earned the It Goes to XI stamp of approval for the white uniforms they brought out for their home match-up against the Wyoming Cowboys (a 48-38 Lobo victory).

According to Lobos coach Steve Alford, the uniforms combine elements from several different uniforms from the ’60’s through the ’80’s. Alford, however, wisely sacrificed authenticity when he decided to leave the micro uniform shorts in the past. “The retro uniform pretty much got thrown out because had I gone with the short shorts, we might not have been able to field a team,” Alford told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Perhaps Alford was feeling nostalgic for his days as a star at Indiana (pictured at right).   If so, who could blame him? He left Indiana as the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,438 points – currently second behind Calbert Cheaney) and as a national champion. His final college game was the Hoosiers’ 74-73 victory over Syracuse to win the 1987 national title; in that game, Alford scored 23 points, shooting 8-15 from the floor, including 7-10 from beyond the arc.

As Seth Davis recently pointed out, Alford has not been half bad as a coach, either. At his first Division I head coaching stop, Alford led Southwest Missouri State to the Sweet Sixteen in 1999. Alford then coached the Iowa Hawkeyes for eight seasons, posting an overall record of 152-106. Under Alford, the Hawkeyes had seven consecutive winning seasons and played in the NCAA tournament three times. Alford is currently in his fifth season at New Mexico, where he has won at least 22 games each year. This year’s squad is 24-6 and won the Mountain West Conference regular season title. Alford likely deserves more credit than he gets as a head coach.

Deserved or not, I will give credit to Alford for this. In the short time I have been writing this blog, I have looked at a lot of team websites, and this is the first autograph request form that I have run across. Maybe Coach would sign one of these for me.

Back to the uniforms: the Lobos have worn them only against Wyoming, but here’s hoping that they make an appearance in the MWC Tournament (Vegas, baby!) or in the Big Dance. If you would like to be that guy at your next pickup game, you can get your own throwback here.

A better look at the New Mexico throwback jerseys, as worn by Drew Gordon (32), A.J. Hardeman (00), and Phillip McDonald. Photo by Will Webber, courtesy of the New Mexican.

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Hope Lost

It's been rumored that T.S. Eliot began writing poetry only after realizing he would never master the set shot.

T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month.” Eliot was born in Missouri, but he must not have watched much basketball. Otherwise, he would have chosen March.

The Flying Dutchmen of Hope College (Holland, Michigan) would certainly tell you that Eliot had it all wrong. After holding the top spot in the D3hoops.com national rankings for the last four weeks of the season, Hope lost its second-round NCAA tournament game to Illinois Wesleyan 108-101 in double overtime. Hope entered Saturday’s matchup against Illinois Wesleyan riding a 23-game winning streak. The Dutchmen’s record for the year stood at 27-1; their only defeat was an 80-55 setback at D-I Western Michigan.

Nobody was leaving this one without a fight; it took two overtimes to decide a winner. Photo by Mark Copier, courtesy of Mlive.com.

The Flying Dutchmen were led by junior forward Nate Snuggerud, who topped all scorers with a career-high 40 points, including the 1,000th point of his career. Snuggerud was remarkably efficient: he shot 14-18 from the floor and sank two three-pointers in three attempts. In the Dutchmen’s opening-round defeat of Westminster, Snuggerud went for 37 points (shooting 16-21 from the floor) and hauled in 14 rebounds. After Saturday’s loss, Hope coach Matt Neil praised Snuggerud: “I think he’s one of the best players in the country. I don’t think I’m far off from that. You get 77 and 23 in two days, that’s about three weeks’ worth for some people.”

Jordan Zimmer of Illinois Wesleyan (25) saved his best for last, scoring 12 points in the final three minutes as his team defeated top-ranked Hope College. Photo by David Proeber, courtesy of pantagraph.com.

Unfortunately for Hope, Snuggerud’s monster game was not enough to turn back the Titans of Illinois Wesleyan. Senior guard Jordan Zimmer was not quite ready for the end of his college career. He sank seven three-pointers in 17 attempts, and tallied 12 points in the final three minutes of the second overtime to seal the victory. After the game, Illinois Wesleyan coach Ron Rose remarked that, “We had to play our hearts out. Every play was contested. There was tremendous effort. It’s a shame either team had to lose.”

One team did, though, and it was Hope.

In Holland, Michigan, May is Tulip Time. Who knows what happens there in April, but for the Flying Dutchmen, nothing could be crueller than March.

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Half Man, Amazing Half

DaQuan Brooks of Western Connecticut State (23) had a career night on Friday as the Colonials eliminated CNU from the D-III tourney. Photo courtesy of Western Connecticut Athletics.

Christopher Newport University (23-5, 12-0 USA South) won the USA South conference tournament last weekend, earning an automatic bid to the Division III national tournament. On Friday, the Captains traveled from Newport News to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to play Western Connecticut State (21-7, 10-4 Little East) from the Little East Conference in an opening round tournament game.

Western Connecticut won the game 94-84 behind 52 points from senior guard DaQuan Brooks, three-time MVP of the Little East Conference. Even more eye-popping than the 52-point total is the fact that Bowers went for 45 in the second half. Brooks shot 14-24 in the second half, including 5-12 from three-point range, and also canned all 12 foul shots he attempted. See Brooks’ second-half outburst for yourself here (click the “On Demand” tab; the second half starts at 1:20:00).

(Update: As of April 13, 2012, the video is no longer available. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

After the game, Brooks explained his bonkers second half: “All it takes for me is to see the ball go through the hoop one time and I get my confidence back.”

CNU coach John Krikorian was gracious in his post-game remarks on Brooks’ performance: “In my 15 years of coaching, I’ve never seen a single player beat a team the way he did tonight. We didn’t change anything from the first to the second half, he just took over. We knew how good he was, and he showed tonight what he’s truly capable of.”

Unfortunately for Western Connecticut, Brooks could not duplicate Friday’s effort in tonight’s second-round game against host Franklin & Marshall. The Diplomats defeated Western Connecticut 82-72 and held Brooks to 22 points on 6-22 shooting from the floor. Franklin & Marshall advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and will play the Amherst Lord Jeffs on Friday, March 9.

DaQuan Brooks’ explosion against CNU was hardly unprecedented; he scored 815 points in 993 minutes of game action this year and averaged 29.1 points per game for the season. He entered Friday’s game with five 40-point games already under his belt this year. Brooks concludes his college career with a four-year total of 2,269 points.

It goes to show you that time spent with Kemba Walker is time well-spent.

Western Connecticut's DaQuan Brooks (with ball) was a high school basketball teammate of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Photo by Barry Horn, courtesy of newstimes.com.

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