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(Editor's Note: March Madness is officially here. Anderson County's girls made the Sweet 16. The boys had a nice run. Kentucky is now the favorite in the NCAA tourney. Tourney Time is your spot for frequent updates on the goings on around the tournaments. Check back often.)
Updated, Thursday, March 25, 5:30 p.m.
My NCAA third round picks
Washington over West Virginia by two. A healthy West Virginia is the better team but the Mountaineers do not have Darryl Bryant. Washington is red hot.
Kentucky over Cornell by 12. Cornell will give the Cats some problems with its discipline and experience, but the Big Red has not played a team that plays pressure defense and has the depth Kentucky has. That will be the difference.
Syracuse over Butler by four. Butler has a real chance, but has to be hitting its threes over the zone. Will the Salt Lake City altitude be a factor?
Kansas State over Xavier by eight. I love Kansas State's defense and Frank Martin's intensity.
Northern Iowa over Michigan State by three. I feel crazy for picking against Tom Izzo, but can he really overcome the loss of Kalin Lucas? Beyond that, Northern Iowa is just GOOD.
Ohio State over Tennessee by nine. I am not totally sold on Ohio State, but even less sold on Tennessee.
Duke over Purdue by four. With Robbie Hummel, Purdue is better. Without him, the Boilermakers won't win. Wait, didn't we hear that last week? Matt Painter has shown he can coach with the best of them, even Mike Krzyzewski. But Duke just has a few more weapons.
Baylor over St. Mary's by three. This, to me, is the most intriguing game simply because I have not seen either play enough to form an opinion. Going with Baylor simply because it is out of the Big 12.
Updated, Thursday, March 25, 10:30 a.m.
I got my usual at the gas station this morning: Two Diet Mountain Dews for $2.22. One to wake up with and the other for later in the day.
It might amaze the elitist types jumping all over tonight's NCAA East Regional semifinal game that someone from the Bluegrass State could figure out that he could save 76 cents by buying two at a time, rather than one now and one later.
(Spare me the arguments I would be better off buying none and drinking water, please. That's for another time.)
By now, you know the students vs. jocks storyline that has played out across the nation ad nauseum. Ivy League vs. SEC. Cornell's nerds against Kentucky's NBA draft picks.
It has gotten so ridiculous that much is being made about Eitan Chemerinski being able to solve a Rubik's Cube in less than three minutes.
Well, whooooooooop-de-do! I have a friend that can solve it just as fast, maybe faster.
Frankly, I have grown tired of the stereotypes, but have come to expect that the elitist types believe the state of Kentucky can do nothing well unless it has to do with sweet mares or sour mash.
To their credit, the Kentucky basketball players have shown more common sense in dealing with Thursday's game than any of the elites.
“They are a good team. There's a possibility we could lose,” DeMarcus Cousins was quoted as saying.
Personally, I loved it when Cousins showed up poking fun at the stereotype wearing some oversized glasses, but you get the feeling that the Wildcats are also tired of the insinuations.
As several local writers have aptly noted, why is it that Patrick Patterson's decision to forego the NBA draft last year so he could graduate in three years not been mentioned in the “students vs. jocks” storyline.
I think you know why. It does not jive with the neat, but false, stereotype.
And there is no mention of the job John Calipari has done in teaching his team about life in general and growing up in particular. Most of the nation knows about Calipari using his Big Blue pulpit to raise a million dollars in earthquake relief for Haiti. Last week, a wonderful story about the Wildcats using an impromptu moment to make a young girl's birthday celebration unforgettable made its rounds nationally as well. From this corner, learning those kind of “people first” lessons are just as important as any classroom work at any college, including Kentucky and Cornell.
I think most people in Kentucky are fine with the idea that most of the college basketball world is for Cornell. The Ivy League does not give athletic scholarships and frankly, there is something about that idea that is just right. And, if Kentucky was not the team Cornell was playing tonight, I would be pulling for the Big Red too.
But if you are like me, you are sick and tired of the false impressions the “students vs. jocks” story line continues to feed.
Cornell is a great institution, no question, but when the Big Red players hit the real world, they will be like graduates of any other institution. At least in most ways.
That brings me full circle to those Diet Mountain Dews. As I left the gas station, I asked Patsy, the clerk, if a Cornell grad would get the same 2-for-2.22 deal I got.
“Nope,” she laughed. “It will cost them $2 each.”
Updated, Monday, March 22, 9 a.m.
Expecting success in October, UK women go for program history Monday
No matter what happens Monday night, the basketball season has been a resounding success for the Kentucky women's basketball team.
Think about what has happened over the last few months with a UK Hoops program that has historically struggled to rise above – or should it be rise to – a middle of the pack position in the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats finished second in the SEC, finished second in the SEC Tournament and have been ranked for much of the year. It was all rewarded with a four-seed in the NCAA Tourney.
We will get back to that in a few minutes.
Wildcats have been honored as the SEC Coach of the Year (Matthew Mitchell), the Player of the Year (Victoria Dunlap) and Freshman of the Year (A'dia Mathies).
And Monday night, the Wildcats will be looking to advance to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 for the first time since 1982. Kentucky will take on fifth-seeded Michigan State for the right to move on to the Kansas City Regional.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m and will be played right in Kentucky's back yard at Louisville's Freedom Hall. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
It would be safe to say that coming off a 16-16 finish a year ago, the 26-7 mark the Wildcats take into Monday's matchup with Michigan State has far exceeded their expectations.
Except their own.
I will interject that I am not a regular member the UK media contingent. I make an occasional game and Media Day. My other duties with high school sports do not allow much more.
Yet it was during the UK Hoops Media Day back on October 29 when one could sense that the 2009-10 season could be special. I saw Mitchell displaying the enthusiasm that has become his trademark.
I also had the privilege to interview Mathies, last year's Miss Basketball at Iroquois High School in Louisville, and Rebecca Gray, the 2007 Miss Basketball at Scott County.
What I found were a couple of young women who did not just hope for a good season. They expected the team to have success.
The practice session I attended was high-octane. There was little down time, but even then, several weeks before the opener, the Wildcats' focus was apparent.
Now they have a chance to do something no UK women's team has done since the days of Valerie Still, whose team advanced to the regional final in 28 years ago.
Beating Michigan State will be a very difficult task. The Spartans are tourney-tested and have been to the Final Four in recent years.
Yet, if you love get-up-the-court offense and get-after-you-like-my-life-depended-on-it defense, you would love UK Hoops. Saturday, Mathies played a huge role, getting a career-high 32 points in the win over Liberty on Saturday.
Guard Keyla Snowden, out of Lexington Catholic, nailed a pair of three-pointers against Liberty that might have been launched from Shelbyville and energized a Freedom Hall crowd that was, by some estimates, 95 percent blue.
This is a team that has made Kentucky women's basketball relevant again. All season long, it has had the motto, “Here we go!”
Monday, UK Hoops can go deeper into the NCAA tournament and into the history books.
**Tickets are available for the game at the Freedom Hall box office or by calling 1-800-633-7105 or 502-852-5151.
Kentucky's talent will bring eighth title to Lexington
You can talk all you want about Cinderella champions, about the madness that makes March, well, MADNESS. You can talk about seedings, where a team plays, who has the best fans and even which team the Hoops-Fan-in-Chief makes in Washington.
It still usually comes down to talent.
And that is why Kentucky is the team that will leave Indianapolis happy on April 5.
Let's get some things out of the way before I make my case for the Wildcats.
First, there will be upsets. No one is immune, either. Just a year ago, Louisville entered the tournament as the overall number one seed – a spurious choice, I thought – but the Cardinals were waxed by Michigan State in the regional finals.
I can go way back and find tourney favorites that have not made it out of the first weekend. Others get knocked out in the regionals. So upsets happen.
There are always the “hot” tournament coaches too. Rick Pitino, Mike Krzyzewski, Denny Crum, Tubby Smith in the 90's. They have all had that name at one time or another. Now the hot name is Tom Izzo of Michigan State.
And there really is something to that. To say otherwise is to ignore how, for example, Izzo has taken so many teams to the Final Four over the last decade or so. (For the record, my theory is that all have had outstanding defensive systems. Izzo's lockdown half-court D shines brightest in the big lights.)
But while we remember the great runs by those teams, we tend to forget that all have had early flameouts too.
There is a reason.
Several years ago, a friend shared his theory about tournament success. While we love to talk about the McDonald's All-Americans, my friend said something along the line of, “The team that usually wins is the one with the most NBA players.”
See Kentucky, 1996 for details.
Obviously that is not always the case (see N.C. State, 1983), and good coaching is at a premium at this time of the year. Yet, there are a lot of very good coaches guiding teams in college basketball and it is amazing how much better a coach is when he has better players.
Back to my friend's theory.
Last year, it was North Carolina. The year before, Kansas.
And this year, it is Kentucky. No one has more talent than the Wildcats.
You can talk about Kentucky's youth, but in this one-and-done world, most of the great teams have an inordinate amount of kids as compared to years past. Kentucky coach John Calipari has made it into an art form, getting players like Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans to Memphis and now John Wall and company at Kentucky.
That is why Kentucky will win.
Wall is the best guard in the country. Demarcus Cousins, the best big man. Patrick Patterson is another first round NBA draft pick. Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton might be in future years. There could be other players on the UK roster playing for pay some day.
With the shot clock effectively removing the all-out stall from the game, the team with the best talent, when it is motivated -- Kentucky is -- is very, difficult to beat.
The Wildcats got no favors from the NCAA and will have to beat East Tennessee, a dangerous Texas, Temple and West Virginia just to get to the Final Four.
But Kentucky has better talent than any of those teams.
Most of all, Kentucky has talent with heart. This team has never given up all season. It has found ways to win when you think a win cannot be found. This team is very special and will be dancing on the Indy Circle on April 5.
My Final Four: Kentucky, Duke, Kansas State and Kansas. Kentucky whips Duke and Kansas shows that beating any team four times in one year is almost impossible. Kentucky over Kansas State in the final.
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated, Wednesday, March 17, 11:30 a.m.
There is no basketball tournament anywhere, repeat anywhere, better than the little four-day party that commences in Rupp Arena Wednesday afternoon. That includes the three-week shindig known as the NCAA tourney.
Sixteen teams, four days, one state champion.
None of this multi-class stuff that ruined some other state tourneys. There is one champion, one only.
Wish I was working it again this year, but that is how it goes.
I work and attend more high school basketball games than most people and have seen some of the teams involved this week. With a blind draw six of the top eight teams (according to the the Courier-Journal Litratings) in the upper bracket, it should be a wild one.
The computer rankings say that Scott County (biggest school in the field with 2,300 students) will beat Shelby Valley (second smallest with 589) for the title. It's quite possible, but here are some thoughts on this year's tourney.
First round winners
Warren Central over East Carter. Warren Central just has too many weapons.
Ballard over Shelby County. Could be closer than you think, but Ballard has no glaring weaknesses, unbelievable athletes and great depth. As always, Shelby's hopes probably ride on point guard extraordinaire Boomer Beckley. How he handles the press will be huge in what could be the most intriguing of all first round games.
Newport over Christian County. An upset. I haven't seen either team play but Newport just has the feel of a Cinderella. The Wildcats have not been to the state since 1962.
Scott County over Corbin. Another intriguing game. Coach Billy Hicks' current team (Scott) vs. his former school. There is a reason Scott is ranked No. 1. The Cardinals are GOOD with three Division I players.
West Jessamine over Muhlenberg County. Guard play is at a premium in tournaments and West Jessamine's Jarrod Polson is as crafty as they come at the high school level. This game should go down to the wire.
Shelby Valley over Paducah Tilghman. Shelby Valley's Elisha Justice can play.
Mason County over North Hardin. Mason has depth and Sweet 16 experience.
Louisville Butler over Knott County Central. Knott is actually a slight favorite and has played a schedule much tougher than most 14th Region winners. This one could go either way, but I will go with Butler because of athleticism.
Final Four? Ballard, Scott County, Shelby Valley and Mason County.
Updated Tuesday, March 16, 11:45 a.m.
Tips for picking your bracket
Over the years, I have entered quite a few NCAA tournament brackets with mixed results.I've won some but lost a lot more. I have had a few years where I got three or even all of the Final Four teams, but a lot where I have gotten one or none. I have picked upsets and had my bracket shot by the end of the first weekend.
Here are some of his tips for picking a winning bracket, based only on his observations.Disclaimer: This is based on my gut feeling and I won't be responsible when all of your Final Four is eliminated by Sunday night.
1.Always pick the No. 1 seeds to win their first game. Every year, the talking heads remind you of that, but there is a reason. Those teams are just that much superior.
2.Do pick some upsets, but not too many. Because of the shock factor of Princeton over UCLA . Richmond over Indiana or Santa Clara over Arizona, we remember those more than any other early round games. The fact remains that picking an enormous number of upsets will likely ruin a bracket.
3.When you do pick a team likely to pull an early upset don't get carried away. While it does occasionally happen, it is rare that more than one team seeded lower than 9 advances to the round of 16 That being said, this looks a year the norm is not, well, normal. Murray State, Siena, UTEP and Cornell could be major stories by Sunday night.
4.Do not pick the Cinderella past the round of 16. By that time, the surprise factor has worn off and she will be htting one of the big boys. The better team will usually prevail. See Western Kentucky's game agaisnt UCLA in 2008 for details.
5.Do pick at least one, usually more No. 1 seeds to the Final Four. While upsets are fun, there is a reason that these teams are seeded high: They are really good.
6.Even with George Mason making the last weekend several years ago, do not pick teams seeded lower than a four to make the Final Four. That was the huge exception to a proven rule. As for a national champion, Arizona in 1997 was the last seeded lower than a 3.
7.Guard play is at a premium in the tourney. It makes no difference if it is youth league or the NBA, great guards are the difference between the very good teams and champions. That bodes well for Kansas, Ohio State and Kentucky.
8.At least one No. 8 or 9 team will scare the bejeebers out of a top seed in the second round. Best bets on that happening this year are Louisville vs. Duke and Texas vs. Kentucky.
9.If you want to win the pool, at least in these parts, don't pick SEC teams to make it to the Final Four and don't place all your hopes on Kentucky.. The Cats can certainly win it but if you pick them, you will be just like everyone else.
10.When all else fails, flip a coin. Close your eyes and point. Draw a name out of a hat. Hey, it's March Madness.
My picks? You'll have to check back on Wednesday!