Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

Weekly links … NCAA Tournament style


Reminiscing about last week’s NCAA Tournament games and I can’t help but think how fun it was to watch South Carolina defeat Duke.

Of course, it is fun anytime Duke goes home the first week of the tourney but it was especially fun because all the Duke excuse makers were out in full force.

You see, it was somehow unfair for Duke to have to play South Carolina in the state of South Carolina.

But for some reason, it never is unfair for Duke opponents to have to play the Blue Devils in the state of North Carolina. How many times has Duke had two quasi-home games in the NCAA tourney?

Yet somehow it was really unfair for Coach K and his team to have to play in a different state.

Duke couldn’t play in the home state this year because the tournament was pulled from North Carolina due to that weirdo transgender bathroom law.

Do they have guards outside the bathroom checking your gender before you are allowed in? What a dumb law.

Anyway, South Carolina and star guard Sindarius Thornwell outclassed Duke. And Frank Martin outcoached Coach K.

South Carolina became America’s Team for a night as most people around the nation enjoyed watching another Duke early exit.

Go Mercer! Go Lehigh! Go South Carolina!

Isn’t Duke an elite program? Well, elite programs should be able to win anywhere.

End of story.


Interesting tidbit I dug up: Wisconsin has won more NCAA Tournament games than anyone else over the past four years.

The Badgers are looking for their 14th NCAA win in that time span when they face Florida on Friday.

Normally, I wouldn’t care who wins a game like this. Especially since my bracket has already met the shredder (thanks, Villanova).

Oh yeah, it was Wisconsin causing my bracket to become full of red ink with its impressive victory over Villanova.

But I now realize it is time for the Badgers to go home. Not their fault but I learned that the slimy politician guy named Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin.

Ryan is the dingbat who is somehow coming up with a worse health care plan than the disaster known as Obamacare (the one time Donald Trump is right). I wouldn’t trust that Ryan clown to correctly put English muffins in the toaster. Heck, my mom calls him a jackass.

Go Gators! Make Paul Ryan have a horrible Friday night.

Here is the stellar preview —


Thursday is the night that all of those Gonzaga fans will become really sad.

The Bulldogs don’t have enough ball-handlers to deal with the “Press Virginia” defense that West Virginia is famous for. The Mountaineers have forced 724 turnovers — nobody else even has 600 — and I see them creating havoc all game long.

Gonzaga also is the team with all the pressure on it. The Bulldogs have never reached a Final Four and even coach Mark Few admitted that the Final Four thing will continue to hang over the program until it reaches one.

Well, I don’t see Nigel Williams-Goss and his teammates even reaching the Elite Eight. I see Gonzaga’s season coming to an end on Thursday.

Here is the stellar preview —





I would enjoy watching the best college football team in the nation being decided tonight.

But the game itself between LSU (13-0) and Alabama (11-1) isn’t going to determine that.

If LSU defeats Alabama a second time in the so-called national championship game, then we get reinforcement of what we already know: The Tigers are the best team in the nation.

But if the Crimson Tide wins, we just played an entire college football season to decide absolutely nothing.

Great system those BCS clowns have put together, huh?

LSU defeated Alabama 9-6 in overtime on Alabama’s home field during the regular season so a Crimson Tide victory would mean the teams went 1-1 against each other this season.

The system of buffoonery would award Alabama the national crown if the Crimson Tide win despite the fact that LSU has a superior body-of-work. The Tigers have eight wins over ranked teams, including victories over Alabama, the Rose Bowl champ (Oregon), the Cotton Bowl champ (Arkansas) and the Orange Bowl champ (West Virginia).

In other words, there’s really no reason to play tonight’s game. If the goal is to award a national champion, that has already been determined. If the regular season really means something, then LSU already is the champion.

Of course, that ridiculous notion that every college football game has meaning has long been exposed as a fallacy no matter how often BCS power brokers utter the phrase. If you’re in a non-BCS conference, only one game in the season has meaning – the game you lost.

Ask Boise State and any other recent one-loss team from the Mountain West, Western Athletic or Conference USA how that works.

So perhaps the ideal thing to do tonight is root for Nick Saban and Alabama to win the game and create more disarray and utter unhappiness with the BCS system.

You can already see the bottom wobbling per the system with the advent of social media. The BCS used to come up with spin control all the time to justify the lack of a legitimate playoff system and they aren’t so thrilled that the common-day fan now has a significant voice and can call them out for being the greedy hypocrites they’ve always been.

The pressure has become so intense that there certainly will be upcoming changes when the television contract runs out after the 2013 season. Perhaps there will even be a four-team playoff three years from now. (The BCS honchos will call it a “plus-one” since they avoid the word “playoff” at all costs.)

So if we need more chaos to get to the plus-one system, then there’s only one chant needed tonight – “Roll Tide.”

But if we are looking to identify the best college football team this season, we already have done so.

It is Les Miles-coached LSU, and it isn’t even close.

It’s less than an hour before tipoff and time for the big prediction.

Since my college basketball predictions this March haven’t been all that stellar, don’t fork the entire savings down on this prognostication. Actually, don’t even bet a fifth of it.

Sentimental favorite Butler against elitist program Duke in the NCAA tournament title contest is about as intriguing of a matchup as you can get.

The little program that could – and does – in Butler against Duke, the Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse program playing in its eighth national championship game during the Mike Krzyzewski era.

The Blue Devils have played terrific basketball over their last 47 minutes – 40 dominating minutes against West Virginia in the Final Four and a spectacular final seven minutes against Baylor in the Elite Eight. Duke’s trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith have been superb and big man Brian Zoubek has stepped up his game.

Butler has its own big three in Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. The Bulldogs received good news a few hours before tipoff when it was determined that Howard, the Horizon League Player of the Year in 2009, could play in the game after suffering a concussion during Saturday’s victory over Michigan State.

Howard looked slow against the Spartans while struggling to deal with Michigan State’s athleticism. Some of that was due to his injury and he will be a pivotal player Monday night in whether or not Butler can pull off the upset.

Butler (33-4) has won 25 consecutive games and has held each of its five NCAA tournament opponents under 60 points – including impressive victories over Syracuse and Kansas State in addition to beating Michigan State. The Bulldogs need to play the same style of game Monday night – think 51-47 or something like that – to beat Duke.

If the Blue Devils (34-5) hit their 3-pointers and get tons of second-chance points like they did against West Virginia and Baylor, it’s hard to see Butler keeping up with them. Particularly since Duke’s bench is vastly better than what the Bulldogs can offer.

The best thing about this game is that it is being played in Indianapolis. A program like Butler never gets to play programs like Duke in its own neighborhood – not that Duke ventures out much anyway. You may recall the Blue Devils didn’t even win their first road game of the year until January.

The deck is always stacked against the little guy in college basketball so you know where everyone’s hearts are. Just like so many people wanted to see Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl three-plus years ago, there are millions of people that want to the see the Bulldogs take down the Blue Devils.

Consider this factoid from a CNBC report: Duke spent $394,068 PER PLAYER last year in numbers filed with the government as part of the Equity in Athletics requirement. Butler’s expenses were $347,108 – for the ENTIRE TEAM.

Yes, this is certainly the ultimate David vs. Goliath type of national championship game, which is why it has captured the attention of the nation, not just college hoops fanatics.

It would be historic if Butler pulls out the victory and I would love to see it. The Bulldogs are at least the second best basketball team in this country this season and some of their players even attended class on Monday morning with the national title game looming.

You don’t think John Calipari’s Kentucky players would have been attending class if the Wildcats were in a national title game in Lexington, Ky., do you?

But unfortunately, I learned a long time ago you don’t make predictions with your heart. You make them with your head.

Duke is playing really well and I’m going to predict the Blue Devils win Monday’s game.

Do I want Duke to win? No.

Do I hope I’m wrong? Yes.

This truly is a no-lose situation for Butler so all the pressure is on the Blue Devils. Even more of it is on them now since I just hitched my prediction to their wagon.

Actually, this is really good news for Butler. I’ve had some struggles this March. I actually picked San Diego State to win an NCAA tournament game (dumb) and picked Ohio State to win the national title (dumber). I identified that Murray State should beat Vanderbilt in the first round and I went ahead and wrote down Vandy on my bracket (very stupid).

Now that’s some really bad March Madness.

So my pick is in – which means Butler can now start planning its title-winning celebration.

The Butler Bulldogs are about to gain millions of new fans over the next 48 hours.

Not just because of their remarkable accomplishment of reaching Monday’s NCAA tournament title game, but also because of their hated, big-name opponent.

The Duke Blue Devils, who live on the upper end of the college basketball food chain, will be Butler’s championship-game opponent after a convincing 78-57 victory over West Virginia in Saturday’s nightcap of the Final Four.

Butler, the mid-major darlings playing less than six miles from their central-Indianapolis campus, defeated Michigan State 52-50 earlier Saturday to earn its spot in the title game.

What you will hear repeatedly between now and Monday night’s tipoff is how the pairing is a classic David vs. Goliath matchup. And so it is with Butler being a member of the Horizon League – the only time you ever hear about that conference is during Butler’s frequent NCAA tournament runs – and the powerful Duke program that is making its eight national title game appearance during coach Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure. Only legendary UCLA coach John Wooden (10) coached in more NCAA title games.

Duke has won three national titles during Coach K’s tenure but it has been nine long years since the Blue Devils’ last championship. Butler’s best run before this season was twice reaching the Sweet 16.

Coach K has been at Duke for 30 seasons. Butler coach Brad Stevens is all of 33 years old.

The Blue Devils (34-5) feature a roster full of high school All-Americans, while Butler (33-4) has just three players that would even crack Duke’s roster – sophomore forward Gordon Hayward, the 2010 Horizon League Player of the Year; sophomore guard Shelvin Mack, a rising NBA prospect; and junior forward Matt Howard, the 2009 Horizon League Player of the Year.

Duke will be favorites to beat Butler and the Blue Devils’ dismantling of West Virginia (31-7) only increases the number of people who will be expecting Duke to end its title drought. But a Butler team with 25 consecutive wins surely has a solid chance of producing a victory.

Ponder this – Butler beat Michigan State (28-9) despite shooting a porous 30.6 percent from the field and making just one basket over the final 12-plus minutes. That doesn’t happen without incredible defense and an extraordinary will to win.

The Spartans had a huge athleticism edge over the Bulldogs but committed twice as many turnovers (16) as Butler (eight) and never scored a single fast-break point. I’m sure many Michigan State fans are feeling the pain of the Spartans playing without dynamic floor leader Kalin Lucas (torn Achilles’ tendon earlier in the tournament) and feeling Lucas would have been the difference in changing a two-point loss into a two-point victory.

Meanwhile, Duke played a terrific game against the Mountaineers. The Blue Devils’ trio of Jon Scheyer (23 points, six assists), Kyle Singler (21 points, nine rebounds, five assists) and Nolan Smith (19 points, six assists) were outstanding and 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek grabbed 10 rebounds. The Blue Devils played championship-caliber basketball in every facet of the game.

On another note, it was a sad way for West Virginia star Da’Sean Butler to end one of the top careers in Mountaineers’ annals. Instead of drawing a thunderous ovation in the final minute of the game, Butler left with a knee injury with 8:59 to play.

He laid on his back on the court for a few minutes in obvious discomfort and it was an emotional moment to see West Virginia coach Bob Huggins lay above the prone Butler trying to console his star player – who ends his career mentioned just below Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley as the top players in West Virginia history.

Butler the player deserved to leave the court in a better manner during his final college game. On Monday, we’ll see whether Butler the basketball program draws a better fate against a Duke team playing its best basketball of the season.

At least Butler knows one thing – there will be a lot of new Butler fans hoping that the Bulldogs can score one for the little guys on the big stage in downtown Indianapolis. Lots of people like to see Duke lose – and even more will emerge on Monday night.

Just was thinking about Saturday’s Final Four games and have decided I will be dreaming about the Butler Bulldogs in my sleep.

As in the possibility of a Horizon League team actually winning a national championship.

No, this isn’t about to digress into one of those forced and very wrong “Hoosiers” comparisons. Anyone who has been paying attention closely to college basketball over the last decade is well aware Butler is no fluke.

Just because Butler’s homecourt (Hinkle Fieldhouse) is best known for being the place where the famous movie was filmed doesn’t mean we turn a program that has made three Sweet 16 appearances in the last eight years into a Cinderella, happy to be in the Final Four motif.

The Bulldogs have won 24 consecutive games heading into Saturday’s national semifinal contest against Michigan State. Good teams get upset all the time in college basketball and Butler hasn’t lost a game since the calendar still said 2009.

Let that sink in for a second, Butler has won two dozen consecutive games over the last three-plus months.

Most people can’t tell you how many teams are in the Horizon League and who they are – yes, even I had to look it up; the answer is 10 and I was only able to name seven of them – so Butler being in the Final Four is like Boise State reaching the Fiesta Bowl. The apple cart hasn’t only been turned upside down, it’s been ravaged and plundered.

The Bulldogs beat both the top-seeded team (Syracuse) and second-seeded team (Kansas State) in their region. They are 32-4 and have two stellar players in sophomore forward Gordon Hayward (the Horizon League Player of the Year) and sophomore guard Shelvin Mack, who had the audacity to pick Butler as his college choice over Kentucky.

Yeah, let that one sink in too – the Lexington, Ky., native could have stayed home and played for the famous Wildcats and instead picked Butler, a private university with just over 4,000 students.

A nice caveat for Butler’s first-ever foray into the Final Four is that the games are in Indianapolis at the new Lucas Oil Stadium, located just more than five miles away from Butler’s campus. The Bulldogs will be the prohibitive favorites of those in attendance when they battle the Spartans (28-8) on Saturday.

Butler’s coach, 33-year-old Brad Stevens, is so young looking he’d get carded trying to enter an 18-and-over club. But he’s a darn good coach with the big question being how long he remains at Butler before some major college comes knocking with a million-dollar-plus offer.

Probably the biggest hurdle for Butler on Saturday is Michigan State’s coach, the great Tom Izzo. This is the Spartans’ sixth Final Four appearance in 12 years – and the second in a row – and there isn’t an overabundance of national champion-caliber talent on the roster. Izzo is a master when it comes to coaching in the NCAA tournament and you know he’s been working overtime to come up with a plan that will end Butler’s run.

Saturday’s other game is Duke (33-5) against West Virginia (31-6). How funny is it that a Final Four matchup between an Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse program and the best team the Big East has to offer is only the second-most intriguing day of the game?

But that’s what the presence of Butler has done to this year’s Final Four. The Bulldogs are overlooked all the time during the regular season but they are the stars of this year’s national semifinals — the best basketball-viewing day of the year.

And I’m ready to hit the pillow dreaming of scenarios that enable Butler to be playing in Monday’s national championship game.

That noisy celebration you think you heard after Duke beat Baylor on Sunday night wasn’t coming just from Durham, N.C., or Duke alums scattered across the nation.

It was coming from CBS.

The network badly didn’t want to have to televise a Final Four without a No. 1 seed for the second time in five seasons. The ratings fell sharply from the previous year the last time CBS didn’t have a one seed among the final four teams.

That was in 2006 – the tournament where George Mason was repeatedly taking out the big-name programs during its historic Final Four run. You just know a final quartet of Butler, Michigan State, West Virginia and Baylor would have sent CBS into shock a full six days before the event started.

But Duke (33-5) restores a small semblance of order by cracking the Final Four with a 78-71 victory over Baylor. Those sharp winds you think you felt in your area Sunday evening were actually CBS executives breathing a heavy sigh of relief.

So get ready for the upcoming love fest between CBS and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. It’s Duke’s 11th Final Four trip under Coach K but its first since 2004. That is quite a drought for the Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse program.

The Blue Devils last won a national title in 2001 but first must get past a tough West Virginia squad in Saturday’s Final Four. Michigan State and Butler, the hometown team, meet in the other national semifinal game in Indianapolis.

Duke got past Baylor even though star player Kyle Singler (five points) missed all 10 of his field-goal attempts. But Nolan Smith stepped up with 29 points and Duke was strong on the boards, getting numerous second chances thanks to 22 offensive rebounds.

Baylor (28-8) reaching the Final Four would have been a great story. The program was a mess after Patrick Dennehy was shot to death in the summer of 2003 by teammate Carlton Dotson. Then-coach Dave Bliss tried to cover up what happened and everything crumbled, and not just Bliss’ reputation.

Scott Drew took on the challenge and has done an incredible job rebuilding the Bears. Baylor reached the NCAA tournament two years ago, played in the NIT title game last season and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament this season.

It’s hard to believe Baylor was after picked to finish 10th in the Big 12 this season with talented players like LaceDarius Dunn (22 points), Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh (18 points) and Tweety Carter (12 points) on the roster. The Bears fell short against Duke on Sunday but can still hold their heads high after putting together the best season in school history.

Michigan State back in Final Four

Michigan State is in the Final Four for the sixth time in 12 years after outlasting Tennessee 70-69 in an entertaining contest on Sunday.

The Spartans (28-8) lost to North Carolina in last year’s title game and are persevering despite the loss of team leader Kalin Lucas to a torn Achilles’ tendon.

Raymar Morgan’s free throw with 1.8 seconds provided the winning point as coach Tom Izzo’s postseason success in regional finals continues to be out of the world. The Spartans are now 6-1 under Izzo when a Final Four berth has been on the line. Izzo’s Spartans won the 2000 national title by beating Florida.

Tennessee (28-9) had never previously advanced to the Elite Eight before this year’s appearance under coach Bruce Pearl. Think about this: The Volunteers’ stay in the men’s tournament was longer than the length in which the school’s vaunted women’s program coached by legendary Pat Summitt lasted in the women’s tourney.

The beauty and fairness of the NCAA tournament will be firmly on display at next weekend’s Final Four as Butler of the Horizon League will be part of the basketball party in Indianapolis.

That doesn’t happen in college football, where the deck is stacked against smaller-conference upstarts like Utah, Texas Christian and Boise State. The BCS system – where the “C” stands for crummy – is set up to ensure two power conference teams meet in the title game and the outsiders (that’s you, Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference) are supposed to be happy with the scraps of playing in one of the other BCS games should they produce an unbeaten record.

But the NCAA tournament is open to the mid-majors and there’s no better storyline than a team like fifth-seeded Butler crashing the Final Four.

And with its campus located just five miles north of downtown Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the Final Four, the Bulldogs will be recipients of unprecedented local support next Saturday when they battle the winner of Sunday’s game between Michigan State and Tennessee.

Butler (32-4) advanced to its first-ever Final Four with a hard-fought 63-56 victory over an immensely talented Kansas State squad. The victory was the Bulldogs’ 24th in a row since last losing three days before Christmas to Alabama-Birmingham.

But these Bulldogs aren’t like the surprise George Mason squad that cracked the 2006 Final Four. Butler is a top-notch program that has reached the Sweet 16 three times in the last eight years. Now the Bulldogs have gone two steps further and are certainly capable of winning two more games and claiming the national title.

Butler is a private school of around 4,500 students and its homecourt (Hinkle Fieldhouse) is famous for being the site where the hit movie “Hoosiers” was filmed.

There really isn’t any comparison to the movie theme when it comes to these Bulldogs. They have a ton of talent – in addition to the typical chemistry Butler’s past NCAA teams have all had.

They also outplayed the second-seeded Wildcats (29-8) and frustrated the guard combo of Jacob Pullen (14 points) and Denis Clemente (18 points). The two players combined for just two first-half points and Pullen, the sharpshooting star of Kansas State’s dramatic double-overtime game against Xavier two nights earlier, never found his groove, making just 4 of 13 field-goal attempts.

Gordon Hayward had 22 points and Shelvin Mack added 16 to pace Butler and now coach Brad Stevens’ team navigates uncharted waters in terms of the basketball stage and the intense amount of publicity that comes with it.

Something tells me the Butler Bulldogs will be up to the task and might even find themselves in the April 5 national title game.

West Virginia ousts Kentucky

Since my bracket had West Virginia beating Kentucky to reach the Final Four, I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised that the Mountaineers defeated the Wildcats 73-66 in Saturday’s other Elite Eight contest.

West Virginia (31-6) will be in the Final Four for the first time since 1959, when a fellow named Jerry West was the star player. You might have heard of that West kid, huh?

But not many people have heard of Joe Mazzulla, the kid averaging 2.2 points per game who tallied a career-high 17 points against the Wildcats. Mazzulla became a pivotal player when point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant was lost for the season with a broken foot earlier in the week.

He was up to the challenge against the talent-laden Kentucky squad led by freshman John Wall. When you get a surprise effort like the one Mazzulla gave, it usually means life is going good and you’re going to win the basketball game.

Da’Sean Butler scored 18 points and made four of West Virginia’s 10 3-point baskets. Kentucky, meanwhile, missed its first 20 3-point shots and ended up just 4-of-32.

Wall scored 19 points in what was surely his final game for Kentucky (35-3). Wall is the consensus No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft if he opts to apply for the draft.

John Calipari’s first season at Kentucky ends three wins short of a national title. And on this day, Calipari was outcoached by West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, who is back in the Final Four for the first time since guiding Cincinnati there in 1992.

West Virginia’s Final Four opponent will be the winner of Sunday’s game between Duke and Baylor.

I warmed up for the Elite Eight on Saturday by watching a women’s basketball game. No, I wasn’t feeling ill. My temperature level and my mental state are just fine, thank you.

I wanted to check out Beth Burns’ San Diego State women’s basketball team on the Sweet 16 stage of the NCAA tournament against Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse Duke. When Burns returned to San Diego State five years ago, the only Sweet 16 the Aztecs’ players had a chance to be a part of was a younger sibling’s birthday party.

But Burns, easily the best coach on the San Diego State campus, revived the program for the second time. Yeah, she built the Aztecs into an NCAA tournament program once before, but left for Ohio State in 1997 and then novices Barb Smith and Jim Tomey oversaw the collapse of the once-proud San Diego State women’s program.

Mike Bohn’s final decision as San Diego State’s athletic director was his best – bringing back Burns to attempt a second rebuilding. Burns’ first team with Tomey’s leftovers resulted in a 3-24 record and went winless in 16 Mountain West Conference games.

With that as the backdrop, it defies logic that the Aztecs were playing Duke in Saturday’s Sweet 16 just four seasons later.

The Aztecs (23-11) stayed with Duke for 20 minutes before wilting in the second half under a combination of their own tired legs and the Blue Devils’ standout defense. Duke racked up an NCAA tournament record 23 steals in delivering a 66-58 victory that ended San Diego State’s season.

The 11th-seeded Aztecs had put together back-to-back upsets of Texas and West Virginia to make their first-ever Sweet 16 appearance. Star guard Jene Morris, who scored a combined 59 points in those two victories, was bothered by a tender hamstring in the game against Duke, and had just 13 points on 4-of-18 shooting.

Duke guard Jasmine Thomas was a one-woman wrecking crew with 29 points, six assists, five rebounds and five steals and the Blue Devils had a 42-28 rebounding edge while forcing the Aztecs into 26 turnovers.

But the outcome, while disappointing to the current group of players, is a minor part of this story. That the Aztecs were playing a team as talented as Duke (30-5) on the national stage just four years after a 3-24 campaign speaks volumes about Burns’ abilities as a program-builder.

Now San Diego State needs to make sure Burns never leaves campus again. She learned a big lesson in leaving for the greener pastures of Ohio State, both on a professional and personal level – she badly missed living near the beach during her time in Columbus.

Besides, if Burns were to leave again, San Diego State will eventually need to hire her a third time to rebuild the program.

And being a master at rebuilding a disaster twice should be more than enough.

All right, who was it that had Tennessee losing to San Diego State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament?

And who was it that thought they had outsmarted all the one-month basketball bracket buzzards by picking Ohio State to win the national title?

Oh wait, was that me?

I think I might be needing to go into deny, deny, deny mode or perhaps sing a bit of that famous George Thorogood tune.

It wasn’t me

No, no baby it wasn’t me

Ah, that must have been some other body,

No, no child it wasn’t me

Yeah, my March Madness bracket is now soaked in red ink thanks to Tennessee’s 76-73 victory over Ohio State on Friday night.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have the proper respect for the Volunteers when the NCAA tournament began. I promise I did. Saw them play a few times on television this year and had a decent understanding of their talent.

I just thought San Diego State had the frontcourt talent to pull off the first-round upset. As for Ohio State, I properly identified Kansas as an overrated pretender (see second-round loss to Northern Iowa) and my intuition kept telling me Georgetown wasn’t all that good (see first-round loss to Ohio University) so I concluded Ohio State was going to be the survivor of the Midwest bracket.

Once I had the Buckeyes lined up in the Final Four, I devised my strategy that most people were going to pick Kansas, Kentucky or Syracuse to win the national crown. I predicted an Ohio State-West Virginia title game and knew it was all or nothing.

Faster than you can scream “Evan Turner’s last-second shot is blocked by J.P. Prince,” my bracket imploded – just as Ohio State (29-8) did down the stretch as the Volunteers (28-8) outplayed the Buckeyes over the final seven minutes.

So it will be Tennessee playing Michigan State for a Final Four berth on Sunday instead of it being an all-Big Ten affair. And I’m not sure West Virginia can rescue my bracket even if the Mountaineers beat Kentucky on Saturday and eventually reach the title game.

Is it too late to Volunteer that I really meant to pick Tennessee to reach the Elite Eight? Yeah, didn’t think anyone would go for that.

Speaking of Michigan State …

Tom Izzo is working that postseason coaching magic of his again as Michigan State (27-8) is now one victory away from cracking the Final Four for the sixth time in 12 years.

Playing without leading scorer and team leader Kalin Lucas (season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury), the Spartans defeated pesky Northern Iowa 59-52 on Friday night. Michigan State had too many athletes for the Panthers (30-5) and held Northern Iowa without a field goal over the final 10 minutes, 21 seconds.

The Spartans, who played in the title game last season, played tough defense all night and actually quieted Northern Iowa sharpshooter Ali Farokhmanesh (only nine points and just one 3-point hoop), who had become a household name – at least as much as a name like Ali Farokhmanesh can – with his game-winning theatrics in the Panthers’ two tournament victories.

In the other two games …

–I’ve been checking airplane tail numbers all night and Saint Mary’s plane did make it to Houston for the Sweet 16 matchup with Baylor. But perhaps something happened to the Gaels’ players in the plane.

On game night, the Gaels were no-shows as Baylor built a 29-point halftime advantage and cruised to a 72-49 victory over Saint Mary’s (28-6).

It was a disappointing showing from Omar Samhan and company and certainly was an ugly ending to Saint Mary’s special season. On the other hand, Baylor (28-7) is definitely that good with talented players like LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter.

I find it hard to believe that Baylor was picked to finish 10th in the Big 12 by the league’s coaches prior to the start of the season. Something tells me Bears coach Scott Drew can have a lot of fun with that tidbit at the league’s next basketball coaches’ meetings.

–Duke is back in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2004 after beating Purdue 70-57. The Blue Devils (32-5) play Baylor on Sunday.

Without star player Robbie Hummel (torn knee ligaments), Purdue (29-6) couldn’t match Duke’s talent and the Blue Devils steadily pulled away over the final 15 minutes.

Duke and Baylor should be an interesting game to watch. The Blue Devils might be a No. 1 seed but the selection committee did them no favors by sending them to Houston as nearby Baylor will have much more fan support than the Dukies.

This was supposed to be the season when the Mountain West Conference did some major damage in the NCAA tournament. The league sent four teams to the Big Dance for the first time ever and both New Mexico and Brigham Young had history-making campaigns.

But the first weekend of the tournament ended Sunday without a single Mountain West team in sight. The Sweet 16 will go on as schedule on Thursday and Friday with the entire Mountain West sitting in front of their television sets.

Eleven conferences will have at least representative in the Sweet 16 but not the conference that rated sixth-best in conference RPI this season.

The Sweet 16 not having a Mountain West squad in it normally wouldn’t jump out as an issue but it does this year after the league’s outstanding regular season. The four teams went a collective 2-4 in the NCAA tournament — New Mexico and Brigham Young went 1-1 with second-round ousters and UNLV and San Diego State were one-and-done casualties.

The league likes to think of itself as the best conference outside the six major power conferences. But a lack of NCAA postseason success continues to haunt it, particularly when teams from lower-rated leagues like the Atlantic-10 (seventh this year), Missouri Valley (ninth), Conference USA (11th), West Coast Conference (13th) and Horizon League (14th) routinely have teams advancing to the Sweet 16 or further.

Even conferences such as the Colonial Athletic Association (George Mason to the Final Four in 2006) and Southern Conference (Davidson to the Elite Eight in 2008) have better recent postseason accomplishments worth boasting about.

Oh yeah, the Ivy League has a Sweet 16 team this year too even though a solid Cornell squad was handed a tough task by drawing a No. 12 seed. All four Mountain West entrants had better seeds but it didn’t help.

Particularly bad was regular-season Mountain West champion New Mexico, a No. 3 seed, being run off the floor by 11th-seeded Washington in Saturday’s second-round game. The Lobos were supposed to be embarking on a deep run – star player Darington Hobson was boasting about an Elite Eight appearance – and they lost to a squad from a league (Pacific-10) that drew season-long criticism for its weakness.

So when the Sweet 16 heats up this week, Washington will be lacing up the sneakers and hitting the hardwood while the Lobos will be wondering what happened. BYU, led by star guard Jimmer Fredette, also will be pondering the same thing though the seventh-seeded Cougars were beaten by a superior athletic team in second-seeded Kansas State.

UNLV lost on a last-second shot by Northern Iowa sharpshooter Ali Farokhmanesh and San Diego State fell short against Tennessee. Both Northern Iowa and Tennessee are Sweet 16 participants while the Rebels and Aztecs can both watch their respective games this week with envy.

Yeah, the Mountain West will have a lot to prove when the 2011 NCAA tournament arrives.

Can we change the name to Big Least?

Speaking of disappointing conference performances, that subject can’t cease without discussing the Big East.

The league had eight teams in the NCAA tournament and only two of them reached the Sweet 16 – No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 2 seed West Virginia.

Such little representation isn’t what the league had in mind when this tournament began. But No. 3 seed Georgetown was routed in the opening round by 14th-seeded Ohio University, No. 2 seed Villanova barely squeaked by 15th-seeded Robert Morris in the first round and lost to 10th-seeded Saint Mary’s in the second round, and No. 3 seed Pittsburgh was a second-round loser to sixth-seeded Xavier of the Atlantic-10.

Joining Georgetown as first-round losers were No. 6 seed Marquette, No. 6 seed Notre Dame and No. 9 seed Louisville.

Sounds more like the “Big Least” to me than the powerful Big East.

Scarier is the probable expansion of the NCAA tournament to 96 teams. I saw the other day that Big East commissioner John Marinatto thinks all 16 of his teams could make the tournament with an expanded field.

That qualifies as another significant reason to root against expansion of the tourney. If expansion eventually goes through, the evidence shows more opportunities should be provided to teams from conferences that often get shafted at selection time — leagues like the Missouri Valley, for example – than adding more middling programs from the power conferences.

Tournament thoughts

–Anyone else wondering how far Saint Mary’s might have advanced in last year’s NCAA tournament when Patty Mills and Daimon Simpson were the leading players after this year’s Omar Samhan-led group reached the Sweet 16? The Gaels were shafted by the selection committee last season.

–Cornell’s Sweet 16 appearance isn’t a surprise to anyone who closely follows college basketball. The current group led by NBA prospect Ryan Wittman, superb point guard Louis Dale and 7-footer Jeff Foote are in the tournament for a third straight year and nearly beat Kansas earlier this season. Cornell is a battle-tested veteran group that is well-coached by Steve Donahue.

–Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez was already a household name after his terrific play in a February upset of Duke and winning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors but how superb was he in the final two minutes of the contest against Michigan State on Sunday? The Terrapins overcame a nine-point deficit with Vasquez scoring 10 of his 26 points and took a brief lead on his spectacular basket with 6.6 seconds left before the Spartans won the game on a buzzer-beating 3-point basket by Korie Lucious.

–Tough break for Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas to suffer a serious Achilles’ tendon injury while trying to lead the Spartans back to the Final Four. The absence of Lucas will give Northern Iowa a better chance at staging a Sweet 16 upset. Of course, there’s no chance of the Spartans taking the Panthers lightly after Northern Iowa’s upset of top-seeded Kansas.

–Saw some chatter about Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt being in danger of losing his job despite reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Hewitt had the Yellow Jackets playing for the national title (see the 2004 loss to Connecticut). Perhaps programs like Oregon, Auburn, Seton Hall, St. John’s and DePaul ought to hold off on filling their openings in case Hewitt suddenly becomes available.

–Tom Penders is out as Houston’s coach despite the Cougars making the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years. The hot rumor has Billy Gillispie as the leading candidate to replace him. It took Gillispie just two seasons to flame out as Kentucky’s coach but he previously did a good coach at two Texas universities — Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M.