For Lithuania, the Dream Team was somewhat of a misnomer…

For USA basketball fans, the Dream Team referred to simply the best squad you could dream of–at least, that was certainly true of the 1992 edition, despite its inclusion of Christian Laettner over the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Isiah Thomas.  But while the States cruised to gold in Barcelona, it was the bronze-medal-winning Lithuanian outfit that was truly a dream team, for they fulfilled the hopes and dreams of a nation, not just those who dreamed of seeing Magic and Bird in the same uni.

In the feature-length documentary The Other Dream Team, director Marius Markevicius showed just how closely intertwined the nascent Lithuanian nation was with basketball, its national sport.  And at an Olympic tournament with an overwhelmingly clear favourite, the Lithuanians provided a true underdog story you could root for.  (They certainly had the Deadheads’ support–check out those tie-dye t-shirts!)  Forget the Miracle on Ice, this was a true Miracle on Hardwood for the former Soviet nation.

Y’see, in the pre-Soviet days, Lithuania was somewhat of a roundball powerhouse, winning two of the first three EuroBasket titles in the late 1930′s.  The sport stayed strong during the occupation, serving as a morale-booster for Siberian exiles, and Lithuania eventually produced a generation of players in who’d lead local club team BC Žalgiris to back-to-back-to-back championship wins over the Russian Red Army team right around the time Pat Reilly was coining the term “three-peat.”  You’ve probably heard of some of these guys, like Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis, who paved the path for Lithuanians to the NBA.

But first, they had to play for the enemy.  In fact, on the 1988 Soviet Union team that beat the Americans for Olympic gold, four of the starting five were Lithuanian.  So when an independent Lithuania runs into the Unified Team (ie. ex-Soviet Union), in the ’92 bronze-medal match, one can only imagine the significance, not to mention the outcome.  Actually, it was a pretty close game, although as Soviet teammate turned opponent Sasha Volkov admits on tape, history was on Lithuania’s side.

Director Markevicius not only conducts extensive interviews with all the key players on that squad, but also key Lithuanian political figures of the era, providing a true historical perspective not only of Lithuanian basketball but of the Lithuanian nation, leaving no dobut that all its star players would bond together to form its first national team.  (None of this Nash can’t play for Canada crap!)  As for the tie-dye, well, it just so happens that Marciulionis’, then a Golden State Warrior, Bay Area fundraising campaign caught the attention of the Grateful Dead themselves, who kicked in some cash along with the unofficial team unis.  No, they did NOT wear those on the court–but they sure did on the podium!

The fact of the matter is that ’92 is to Lithuania what ’72 was to Canada–had our country, and not just its ice rinks, been invaded by the Soviets.  Coincidentally, it was also the birth year of Toronto Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas, the highest Lithuanian pick in NBA history when he was taken fifth overall a couple years back.  The film also follows Jonas throughout his pre-draft workouts, culminating with a footnote on the future of Lithuanian basketball–not to mention the Toronto team.  And speaking of footnotes, it just so happens that Lithuania won silver at Eurobasket just two months ago.  With Sabonis and Marciulionis both running hoops schools in their home country, it seems that the future of Lithuanian basketball is in great shape…

If only the same could be said for the Raptors.

Note: The Other Dream Team was the premiere screening of this year’s European Union Film Festival, which runs until the 27th at The Royal and features one film from each EU nation.  All screenings are free–but if you kick in 10 bucks ahead of time, you don’t hafta wait in line.  Full festival schedule here.

About these ads

Wellp, I guess this makes me a Celtics fan…

Although Anthony Bennett got all the headlines–especially north of the border–he wasn’t the only Canadian taken in the first round of last night’s NBA draft.  After a run of guards from picks 7 to 11, the Oklahoma City Thunder took young New Zealander Steven Adams with the 12th overall pick that originally belonged to the Raptors.  Had Toronto hung on to that pick (hey, I can live without Kyle Lowry), they could have landed the most offensively gifted Canadian centre since…  Man, I don’t think I can even come up with a name, unless we’re talking hockey. ;)

As it stands, Gonzaga grad Kelly Olynyk was picked 13th overall. Fittingly enough, as he wore number 13 in college.  In fact, some of the early mock drafts already had him going to the Mavs at 13.  As I noted back in April, when he officially declared, “Draftexpress.com, for instance, has Olynyk going 13th overall to Dallas, where he could hone his Dirk Nowitzki-like game behind Dirk Nowitzki himself.”

Aye, but here’s the rub.  Dallas traded the 13th pick to the Boston Celtics.  So instead of honing his game behind the Dunking Deutschman, he’ll be doing so behind Kevin Garnett, another one of the premier new-breed power forwards.  But wait, there’s more!  The Celts then turned around and dealt KG and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn for a smorgasbord of sub-par players.  Suddenly, instead of honing his game behind Dirk or KG, Olynyk simply has to beat out Kris “Don’t Call Me Kardashian” Humphries for a spot in the starting lineup!

And the best part?  As Atlantic Division rivals, Boston is bound to visit Toronto a fistful of times next season.  Hey, the Raptors don’t have an all-Celtics ticket pack, do they? :P

Not cheering for either team, but I’ll still watch the games… Because it’s the Cup!

(Now where’s my money, Bettman?  You don’t want me to send Agents Bouchard and Ward after ya, now do ya, punk?)

All corporate sponsorship aside, it’s safe to say I’ll be watching me some hockey tonight.  Still trying to figure out what the heck happened to Pittsburgh, the Miami Heat of the NHL, who were held to just two goals in four games against Boston in the Eastern Final, though.  And with their elimination, I threw my Jarome Iginla jersey in the wash.  If only he hadn’t vetoed that trade to Boston…  Matt Bartkowski would be wearing a Flames jersey (on the golf course) right now!  And, of course, Iggy would be in the finals.

Then again, if the Boston Bruins are the NHL’s Indiana Pacers (minus the “no homo” and “y’all motherfuckers“…  OK, basically without Roy Hibbert), you could almost argue that the Chicago Blackhawks are the Heat.  Chicago did finish with the best record in the league, after all, and won–or lost via shootout–24 straight games, almost equaling the Heat’s 27 game mark.  The Hawks boast some serious star-power in the likes of Kane, Toews, Sharp and Hossa, none of whom resort to shooting from the outside like Chris Bosh.  But hey, Boston was pretty much able to hold Crosby, Malkin, Morrow and Iginla off the scoreboard, sooo…

I guess what I’m saying is that I expect this, like the Pacers-Heat series, to be a hotly-contested, back-and-forth affair in which neither side is able to take two straight games.  But in the end, the better team wins.  Hawks in 7.

(Oh, and while we’re at it, Spurs in 5.  You heard it here first…)

Uh, so I guess there’s some basketball on, too…

Can’t say I’ve watched too much of the NBA playoffs up to this point, but now that we’re into the conference finals, things are getting interesting.  Well, in the Eastern Conference, anyways.  And thus, while I’ll be awaiting the start of the marquee Boston-Pittsburgh Eastern Final with all the other hockey fans, I’ll be sure to watch the Pacers and Heat in the meantime.

Of course, everybody expects Miami to win this series, and subsequently, the Larry O’Brien Trophy.  Let’s just say that if Dennis Green coached basketball, he would crown their ass by now.  But the hicks from the sticks (who once famously nixed the Knicks in six) have been giving them one heckuva run thus far.  Playing the first two games in South Beach, the Pacers took Game 1 into OT on a last-second shot, only to have the Heat squeak out a one-point win.  But instead of hitting the game-winning layup in Game 2, Lebron James turned the ball over, as the road team hung on for a 97-93 victory.  Now the series heads back to Indiana, where the home team is undefeated in the playoffs.  If they can get ahead in this series, it would really put the defending champs on the ropes!

In any case, I’ll be cheering for ‘em.  So will 49 of the 50 states, apparently.

On the other hand, while the Western Conference final has seen some competitive basketball with the last two games going into OT, the San Antonio Spurs have emerged victorious with a 3-0 series lead.  Although trading away Rudy Gay helped propel the Memphis Grizzlies to the conference final, it doesn’t look like it was enough to win the West.  Meanwhile, the Raptors have been sitting at home since April 17th.  I mean, basketball players don’t golf, right?

My point exactly.

Well, I should have a reason to go to ONE Raptors game next season…

Soooo, the NBA playoffs started last weekend, but I hafta say, I didn’t really notice.  Was I still mourning Gonzaga’s early exit from the NCAA tourney?  Perhaps a little.  But truth be told, I haven’t been following pro ball as closely as the college game these past few years.  I mean, it’s not like the Toronto Raptors have been giving me much to cheer for.  That said, there’s a good chance I’ll be going to at least one Raptors game next season–although I won’t necessarily be rooting for the home team.

Last Friday, Gonzaga big man Kelly Olynyk did the expected and declared for the NBA draft.  After becoming the third Zag to be named first-team All American, he’s now the fourth to leave school with eligibility remaining–even though, as a redshirt junior, he already has his undergraduate degree.  Of course, Olynyk also has a special set of skills to go along with his seven-foot frame, and could potentially go down in history as the top Canadian big man of all-time, unseating the likes of Bill Wennington, Todd MacCulloch and Jamaal Magloire in the process–perhaps not such a lofty achievement.  As it stands, many mock drafts have him projected to go between 10th and 14th overall.  And interestingly enough, the Raptors would’ve had the 12th overall pick had they not shipped it to Houston (for Kyle Lowry), who later passed it on to OKC in the James Harden trade.  So if the Raps wanna land the next Canadian superstar, well, they might hafta wait till Kevin Pangos is eligible in 2015. ;)

In fact, there’s a decent possibility that Raptors fans won’t even get to see KO in person more than once a year, as four of the five teams in that 10-14 range play in the Western Conference.  Draftexpress.com, for instance, has Olynyk going 13th overall to Dallas, where he could hone his Dirk Nowitzki-like game behind Dirk Nowitzki himself.  ESPN, meanwhile, has him going to Utah with the 14th pick, a team that’s had some incredible success drafting Gonzaga alumni in the first round.  (FWIW, I’m betting they sign David Stockton as an undrafted free-agent next year.)  And nbadraft.net has him 10th overall to Portland, a team that seems set at center with LaMarcus Aldridge–unless they trade him to Cleveland.  If nothing else, he’d be close to Spokane, as well as Kamloops.  And best-case scenario, he steps into the starting lineup, though I wouldn’t quite bank on that Aldridge trade.

Then again, these mock drafts are never an exact science.  Thus, it’s worth noting that two of Toronto’s Atlantic Division foes, namely Philly and Boston, have top-16 picks, while the pesky Milwaukee team that pwned the Raps all season picks 15th.  Considering that nbadraft.net has all three of them picking players 6-foot-9 or taller, and, let’s say the Blazers prefer Mason Plumlee, we could be seeing a lot more of Olynyk on the East Coast next year.  Cuz let’s face it, the chances of Andrew Bynum going a full season without injury are about as slim as North Philadelphia going a full week without gun violence.  Not that I really wanna see Kelly in a Sixers jersey.  But hey, I hear Boston’s nice this time of year…

I stand by my NCAA finals prediction: Michigan 77, Louisville 76

I actually had the foresight to put both the Cardinals and the Wolverines in my Final Four.  Of course, the former was pretty much a no-brainer; the Big East regular-season and tournament champs had the number-one overall seed.  But not many people picked Michigan, despite their top-10 ranking and placement in a region where notorious early-exiters Kansas and Georgetown were the top two seeds.  Florida was the most popular selection in the South region, but the Maize-and-Blue dispatched them about as easily as Louisville triumphed over any team not from the state of Wichita. ;)

Did I mention that I nearly nailed not only the margin of victory but the final score in the Lousiville-WSU game in my Final Four picks the other day?  (I had Louisville 74, Wichita State 69, in case you’re too lazy to click the link.)  Turns out I was way off on the Michigan-Syracuse score, but I did have the Wolverines prevailing–in my Final Four picks, that is.  I had Gonzaga over Miami on my bracket, so my crystal ball clearly isn’t crystal clear.  That being said, here’s what I wrote two days ago in regards to the NCAA final:

NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP

So, we’ve got the two teams with the most impressive tournament runs in the big game.  Louisville’s average margin of victory in the tourney has been 21.75 points per game, and that includes the somewhat-close win over Oregon.  Meanwhile, Michigan has defeated its first four opponents by an average of 16 points–and that number rises to 20 if you subtract the Kansas game.  But let’s not take that game away, because it’s probably Michigan’s biggest win of the entire season.  In the Sweet 16, they showed they could take everything that one of the top teams in the country threw at them, rope-a-dope ‘em for 30+ minutes, then explode with an improbable offensive flurry to win big in a hostile environment.  (Notice how empty Cowboys Stadium was for the regional final after the Jayhawks had been sent home?)  On the other hand, Louisville’s toughest test in the tourney could well be Wichita State…

Sure, the Duke win was impressive, but the Elite Eight was farther than the Devils have reached in five of the last 10 years.  That Duke team looked like they were just happy to be here, especially after losing in the first round the year before.  And in any case, I think we can call it a wash between Louisville’s 50-31 second half and Michigan’s 47-30 first half versus Florida.  Bottom line is both teams deserve to be here, and I think it’s an upset if either one loses in the semis.

That being said, I think both teams also match up well in terms of length, depth and athleticism.  In fact, Michigan’s second-generation superstars (Robinson, Hardaway et al) have a decided height advantage over Louisville’s smaller backcourt–which will obviously be without Kevin Ware.  Here’s hoping the kid can walk again; that injury was pretty gruesome, a term I don’t use lightly. ;)   Meanwhile, can the likes of Gorgui Dieng keep super-frosh Mitch McGary in check?  The Michigan rook saw major minutes against VCU and Kansas, putting up 46 points and 28 rebounds, and would have easily had another double-double versus Florida, had he not rested for most of the second half.  (As it stands, he came just one rebound short.)  The difference in this game could come down low, and the Wolverines have the revelation of the tournament in the post, soooo…

I’m not saying they’ll win by much, but I like Michigan.  Here’s hoping they buck the recent trend of snore-tastic NCAA finals and give us a barn-burner that comes down to a Trey Burke, erm, trey at the buzzer.  Michigan 77, Louisville 76.

Let’s just say I stand by my prediction.  Both teams fought threw some adversity in the semis, but clearly punched their tickets to the Big Dance.  The two schools haven’t met yet this season, and Michigan only faced one Big East foe before Syracuse, whereas Louisville is 0-0 against the Big 10, so it’s hard to get a head’s up on the head-to-head.  Therefore, I really think this game could go either way–and I’m hoping it actually does come down to the buzzer. :D

FINAL FOUR: Can the Wichita State Shockers shock the world? (No, probably not…)

Although I correctly predicted half of the Final Four participants, I had Gonzaga and Miami in the title game, so my bracket’s been busted for a while now.  The best I could finish would be 21st in my pool, and possibly as low as 23rd (out of 25), if Louisville goes all the way.  Of course, I had them losing to Gonzaga at this stage.  Does it make me feel better knowing my team lost to the eventual regional champ?  OK, maybe a little…

But while WSU tore through the West bracket, they certainly looked vulnerable in the Elite Eight, mailing it in early against Ohio State after amassing a big lead.  With six minutes left to play, the Shockers went scoreless for the next three as OSU cut the deficit from 15 t0 eight, and got as close as four with two minutes remaining.  If Wichita hung on to win, it’s largely because the Buckeyes only made two shots down the stretch–and one was with just six seconds left.  Had they been facing Michigan instead, they of the amazing comeback against Kansas, it’s safe to say the Shockers would not be in Atlanta.  But now that they’re here, can they pull off the most-shocking upset of the tournament?  Read on…

6:09 pm: Louisville over Wichita State – Sorry Shockers, but your run ends here.  As much as a Wichita win would bust half the brackets in the country, I think the Louisville press might be a bit too much for WSU.  This is a team, after all, that blew Duke outta the water in the second half of their regional final, putting 50 points on the board in the process.  Louisville simply has too much length, too much talent, too much depth for the undersized Shockers squad–to say nothing of their full-court press.  The only way I can see State pulling off the upset is if they can run-and-gun with the Cards.  In fact, the only team to lose by less than 10 to Louisville in the past month was Oregon, who pushed the tempo throughout… though they still couldn’t put enough points on the board.  But that’s doesn’t seem to be Wichita’s game; this team tends to win with defense, although they have hit 70 throughout the tourney.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be rooting for the underdog–and I think this game will be closer than people expect–but Louisville 74, Wichita State 69.

8:49 pm: Michigan over Syracuse –  The early tip features a giant-slayer against the tourney’s top seed, and thus makes for better TV, but we’ve arguably got two giant-slayers here.  Michigan, of course, had that miraculous comeback to beat Kansas in overtime, whereas Syracuse simply shut down Indiana with its unique zone defense.  For the Cuse, it’s all about the D–they followed that Hoosier lockdown by holding Marquette to a mere 39 points, while only scoring 55 themselves.  In fact, aside from an easy first-round win against an over-matched Montana team, the Orange haven’t topped 66 points in a tournament game.  Though their season scoring average has been inflated by a soft non-conference schedule (ie 108-56 over Monmouth, 96-62 over Central Connecticut State), most of their tough Big East games have been in the 60s.  In fact, they’ve even been 39ed themselves, losing by 22 in their last-ever visit to Georgetown.  (They would get their revenge, however, in a 58-55 overtime squeaker in the conference tourney.)

On the other hand, Michigan often pushes the tempo into the 70s, or even the 80s.  After all, it took 87 points to upset Kansas.  And the most exciting game of this year’s tournament was sandwiched between a pair of 20-point blowouts of solid VCU and Florida squads.  If Syracuse has been squeaking through the tourney like a 14, not a four-seed, Michigan has nearly been as dominant as the top team in the Midwest region, y’know, the one that erased a 16-point deficit to beat the Cuse in the Big East final–by 17 points!  Hmm, where have we seen that kinda comeback before?  Michigan 75, Syracuse 64

 

NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP

So, we’ve got the two teams with the most impressive tournament runs in the big game.  Louisville’s average margin of victory in the tourney has been 21.75 points per game, and that includes the somewhat-close win over Oregon.  Meanwhile, Michigan has defeated its first four opponents by an average of 16 points–and that number rises to 20 if you subtract the Kansas game.  But let’s not take that game away, because it’s probably Michigan’s biggest win of the entire season.  In the Sweet 16, they showed they could take everything that one of the top teams in the country threw at them, rope-a-dope ‘em for 30+ minutes, then explode with an improbable offensive flurry to win big in a hostile environment.  (Notice how empty Cowboys Stadium was for the regional final after the Jayhawks had been sent home?)  On the other hand, Louisville’s toughest test in the tourney could well be Wichita State…

Sure, the Duke win was impressive, but the Elite Eight was farther than the Devils have reached in five of the last 10 years.  That Duke team looked like they were just happy to be here, especially after losing in the first round the year before.  And in any case, I think we can call it a wash between Louisville’s 50-31 second half and Michigan’s 47-30 first half versus Florida.  Bottom line is both teams deserve to be here, and I think it’s an upset if either one loses in the semis.

That being said, I think both teams also match up well in terms of length, depth and athleticism.  In fact, Michigan’s second-generation superstars (Robinson, Hardaway et al) have a decided height advantage over Louisville’s smaller backcourt–which will obviously be without Kevin Ware.  Here’s hoping the kid can walk again; that injury was pretty gruesome, a term I don’t use lightly. ;)  Meanwhile, can the likes of Gorgui Dieng keep super-frosh Mitch McGary in check?  The Michigan rook saw major minutes against VCU and Kansas, putting up 46 points and 28 rebounds, and would have easily had another double-double versus Florida, had he not rested for most of the second half.  (As it stands, he came just one rebound short.)  The difference in this game could come down low, and the Wolverines have the revelation of the tournament in the post, soooo…

I’m not saying they’ll win by much, but I like Michigan.  Here’s hoping they buck the recent trend of snore-tastic NCAA finals and give us a barn-burner that comes down to a Trey Burke, erm, trey at the buzzer.  Michigan 77, Louisville 76.

And then there were eight… including Wichita State!

While there were some major upsets in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, by the time you get to the regional finals, typically only the top seeds remain.  Not necessarily the number ones, mind you; there is only one one-seed left in this year’s tournament.  But every other surviving squad is seeded no higher than fourth–except for Wichita State.

The ninth-seeded Shockers have certainly lived up to their moniker with three impressive victories in the tournament.  They’ve scored at least 72 points in each win, and sandwiched a six-point squeaker over top-ranked Gonzaga between two games where they held opponents under 60.  Which is not to diminish the fact that they beat the top-ranked team in the country, making the Zags the first one-seed to fall.  (Yeah, I don’t really wanna talk about it.)

Runners-up in the Missouri Valley Conference, WSU dropped two of its three meetings against Creighton, including the conference championship game.  They also suffered back-to-back-to-back losses in MVC play against the likes of Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois.  But aside from that stretch, they’ve beaten pretty much everybody they faced–except for those pesky Evansville Aces, who handed them two losses.  So how did a mid-major also-ran get to be amongst the big dogs?

De-fense!  *clap clap* De-fense!  *clap clap*  Aside from an ugly 91-79 loss to their main conference rivals, a 94-79 shootout win over Detroit and two other high-scoring conference games, Wichita State has held just about every opponent under 70, their defensive masterpiece being a 73-39 win over Bradley in which they held the Braves to just 32-per-cent shooting.  Their impregnable fortress has held up during the tourney, with no foe hitting more than 36 per cent of its shots.  In fact, Pitt, Gonzaga and La Salle all shot between 35.2 and 35.7 per cent from the field against WSU.  Now that’s defensive consistency!

That said, the Shockers’ Great Wall of Bricks could be severely tested by the second-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes, who average 70 points per game on 46.5-per-cent shooting.  If Wichita State has earned a reputation as the defensive wizards of the tournament, Ohio State has become known for its escape artistry, hitting three-pointers in the dying seconds to pull off two narrow victories.  And while they’ve consistently scored in the 70s during the tourney, OSU is also no stranger to the low-scoring, hard-fought contest.  Their win over Wisconsin in the Big 10 final was a 50-43 stinker in which both teams shot below 20 per cent from the three-point line.  And yet, the Buckeyes still prevailed.

That being said, I think a tightly-defended contest works in the nine-seed’s favour.  Wichita State has shown the ability to heat up from behind the arc, with nobodies like Fred Van Vleet lighting up rainbows late in games.  But I’m not sure they can out-muscle one of the top teams from the uber-physical Big 10, so I don’t envision a final score in the 50s.  This one could come down to another near buzzer-beater–in which case, advantage Buckeyes.  Hey, they’ve already been there, done that, twice.  Ohio State 72, Wichita State 69.

Here’s who I like for the rest of the weekend…

Saturday, 4:30 pm: Marquette over Syracuse –  Speaking of escape acts, Marquette also survived two early scares in the tournament.  Forget winning by three at the buzzer, the Golden Eagles beat Davidson and Butler by three points combined before rolling over a sluggish Miami squad (that I had going all the way to the final) in the Sweet 16.  With the Orange knocking off top-seeded Indiana on Thursday, it sets up a Big East battle for the Final Four, which means these two teams have faced each other already.  In fact, that game also went down to the wire, with Marquette winning 74-71.  It was Syracuse who barely beat the buzzer with a three-pointer, but that only cut the deficit to two, and after a made free-throw, they simply didn’t have enough time left to get a shot off.  But hey, it’s not like Marquette hasn’t benefited from some late-game mistakes by its tournament opponents, either.  Not only have they been there, done that in the tourney–they’ve also done it against the Cuse, so I gotta give the edge to the Eagles.

Sunday, 2:20 pm: Michigan over Florida –  This was the only Elite Eight matchup that I successfully predicted in my bracket–and it just barely held up.  I actually moved up one spot in my pool (to 23rd place) by picking Michigan over Kansas, but it took one heck of a comeback to get that one right.  The aptly-named Trey Burke had a Kelly Olynyk-like performance, stuffing the score sheet in the second half after going scoreless in the first.  And man, did the kid from Columbus hit some deep 3s!  Not only was it the most impressive comeback of the tourney, but one of the most exciting games as well.  And knocking off Kansas really adds to the Wolverines’ resume.  On the other hand, the Gators have had a relatively easy route to the Elite Eight, knocking off a 14, an 11 and a 15-seed.  Their last tough test came in the SEC final–where they lost to Ole Miss.  They might have ended FGCU’s run, but you still gotta figure Michigan has all the momentum heading into this one, and I like UM to advance.

Sunday, 5:05 pm: Louisville over Duke –  Alas, the Midwest was the only region where the top two teams made it to the final.  In fact, there were very few upsets on that side of the bracket, aside from Oregon’s (somewhat) unexpected run to the Sweet 16.  As it stands, the winner of this one ought to be considered the Final Four favourite, although there won’t be any easy outs from here on in.  While I had Duke losing to MSU in my bracket, I still like Louisville here.  Oregon offered a bit of a test last night, but the Cardinals still led from start to finish.  Could Duke still pull off the slight upset?  I suppose so, but they’ve been rather unimpressive thus far against opposition that’s played poorly.  Let’s see how they handle the Louisville press. ;)

More Sweet 16 picks from someone who doesn’t know shit about the Sweet 16…

So last night, I nailed the Syracuse-Indiana matchup, correctly predicting that the stifling Cuse D would be too much for the Big 10 champs to handle.  Mind you, I also had La Salle, Arizona and Miami winning that evening.  In fact, I had Miami losing to Gonzaga in the title game when I first filled out my bracket.  Instead of anally sodomizing Marquette as expected, the Canes simply screwed the pooch in an ugly 71-61 loss.  And with that, the chances of finishing any higher than 20th in my office pool simply went out the window.

That being said, the top half of my bracket is still in pretty decent shape, with Michigan and Louisville in my Final Four.  The latter is likely a no-brainer–a loss to Oregon would be the biggest upset of the tournament not involving FGCU.  Meanwhile, I like the Wolverines over Kansas.  I really don’t think this year’s Kansas is last year’s Kansas.  And speaking of FGCU, well…  here’s who I’ve got in tonight’s matchups:

7:15 pm: Louisville over Oregon –  The Ducks might have been dissed as a 12-seed after winning the Pac-12 tourney, and they played with a chip on their shoulders (do Ducks have shoulders?) in romps over Saint Louis and OK State.  But they’ll be facing a far superior test in the Big East champs, the overall number-one seed.  Louisville stormed through the first two (all-inclusive) rounds of the tournament, putting 161 points on the board with an average margin of victory of 28.5.  Oregon might be a step up in competition, but not too big a step.  The Cards should still take ‘em by 20.

7:37 pm: Michigan over Kansas — Last year’s Jayhawks eked their way to the title game, but c’mon, everybody knows not to pick Kansas in the tournament, right?  Though they really turned it on in the second half to send UNC packing (for the second straight year), the Hawks now face a much tougher foe in Michigan, arguably the strongest four-seed in the tourney–although Syracuse might beg to differ.  Like the Orange, the Maize-and-Blue spent a lot of the early part of the season ranked in the top five, but stumbled down the stretch, albeit not as badly as their fellow four-seed.  But with two dominating wins in the opening weekend, including an absolute clamp-down of the high-flying VCU Rams, holding them to just 53 points, I’m starting to think that Michigan could…  go…  all…  the… way!  (To the Final Four, anyways.)

9:45 pm: Michigan State over Duke –  That’s right, I’ve got both major Michigan schools in my Elite Eight.  It might be a down year for manufacturing, but basketball has never been better in the Great Lakes State.  Of course, Duke is always a great program, but they’ve only made it past the Sweet 16 twice in the past 10 years.  As a matter of fact, the Devils have lost in this round in five of the last 10 tournaments.  On the other hand, MSU is no stranger to tournament success, appearing in three of the last eight Final Fours, although they haven’t won it all since 2000.  For what it’s worth, I think their run ends in the Elite Eight against the same team that knocked ‘em out of last year’s tourney.  Duke, meanwhile, should just be happy they didn’t lose to a 15-seed again. :P

9:57 pm: Florida over Florida Gulf Coast –  Speaking of 15-seeds, I was somewhat surprised to see that FGCU is the first 15 to make the Sweet 16.  Granted, we don’t get 15-2 upsets every year, but the winner of said game goes on to face either a seven or a 10-seed, which should be an easier opponent.  And yet, no one had ever pulled off the double upset until the little school from the Atlantic Sun came around to bust up some brackets (c’mon though, Georgetown is another perennial tournament stinker!).  That being said, while they’ve certainly put their program on the map, I think the Eagles’ run ends tonight against the SEC champs.  There are only seven teams in America who shoot better than the Gators, and Florida averages just one fewer point per game than Florida Gulf Coast–against much stiffer competition, mind you.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be cheering for the underdog; but unlike last night, I won’t be picking them to win.  Maaaan, La Salle sure shat the bed, didn’t they?

Can the La Salle Expedition continue on to the Elite Eight?

Y’know, were it not for my West bracket being completely busted–oh, and picking Gonzaga to win it all–I might be in decent shape in my office pool.  Although I went 0-4 in the West region, I otherwise batted .750 in the third round as my other six Elite Eight picks all made it to the Sweet 16.  But alas, my national champs bowed out early, so as it stands I’m in 24th, albeit with a commanding lead over 25th (aka last) place.  Too bad the prize money only goes to the top three…

That said, since my bracket wouldn’t voom if I put four thousand volts through it, I’m throwing my support behind the La Salle Explorers.  If I have any hope of finishing, oh, in the top 20 or so, I’ll need everybody’s West region to be as bleedin’ demised as mine.  And hey, it’s not entirely unprecedented for a team to go from the First Four to the Final Four, either.  La Salle need look no further than two spots up the A-10 standings to see the VCU Rams, who burst onto the national scene when they did so two years ago.  Did I mention that La Salle defeated VCU–in the latter’s gym, no less?  Of course, they weren’t playing against the 2011 team…

But they do face a relatively easy opponent in the Sweet 16, with Wichita St. being the third-lowest seed to advance to the fourth round.  Of course even on paper, it’s hardly a cakewalk, as Wichita State has four more wins on the season than the A-10 also-rans–to say nothing of the fact that they blitzed 20th-ranked Pitt and knocked out the top team in the country during the tournament’s opening weekend.  WSU may have only shot 33 per cent from 3-point land (how appropriate!) on the year, but they upped that number to 50 in shocking the Zags last Saturday.  And while they’re hardly the highest-scoring team in the nation, they totally play some tough D, holding both highly-touted opponents under 36 per cent from the field.

La Salle doesn’t put up quite as many points as Gonzaga, but they still averaged 72.4 ppg against a deep A-10 conference that sent five teams to the tourney (mind you, the fourth-place Explorers are the last ones standing).  I wasn’t so big on them after their second-half squeaker vs K-State, but then they proved they could run ‘n gun with the Runnin’ Rebs, matching the SEC tourney champs bucket-for-bucket in their third-round win.  Because who doesn’t wanna see a four-guard squad from North Philly in the Final Four?  I’m sure Bill Raftery would leave some Depends on the deck for his alma matter, let’s put it that way…  La Salle 72, Wichita State 69.

Of course, the Upset Special Game of the Night doesn’t tip till 10:17 pm (on the East Coast), so there are a few games to go before we get to see the future NCAA champs in action.  Here’s who I like in the other three contests:

7:15 pm: Miami over Marquette – Through their first two games, this Marquette team is starting to remind me of last year’s Kansas squad, a team that should’ve lost pretty much every regional game, but somehow managed to survive each time.  Of course, Kansas made it all the way to the national championship game in 2012, but I can’t see that happening this year for the Jayhawks–or the Golden Eagles, for that matter.  This Marquette team that barely squeaked past Butler and Davidson is about to meet a major roadblock in the ACC regular-season and tournament champs.  Arguably the top two-seed in the tourney, Miami was ranked as high as second during the season.  And sure, they’ve had some upsets along the way, but this is a team that bent Duke over, stole their anal virginity, took all their money, kicked their dog and burned their house down en route to a 90-63 thrashing in late January.  Marquette might wanna wear a collective ass-condom. ;)

7:47 pm: Arizona over Ohio State –  Speaking of barely surviving, the Fuckeyes (as the Fab Four used to call ‘em) needed a virtual buzzer-beater to beat Iowa State, a 12-loss team from the Big 12.  Their reward is a trip to Los Angeles, where Arizona ties run deep–and not just in the Mexican gangs.  The Wildcats have six players from the L.A. area, including starting forward Solomon Hill, who averages 13 points a game when he’s not playing in front of his folks.  Suffice to say there’ll be a lot of encouragement for the Pac-12 program, who are now my most-logical pick to win the West.  The heart says La Salle, but the brain’s telling me Arizona’s got this region.

9:45 pm: Syracuse over Indiana –  Holy upset special, Batman!  Gonzaga might have been the only one-seed not to make it to the Sweet 16, but my bracket has two more of them falling to four-seeds in this round.  The Hoosiers suffered a third-round scare against a Temple team that tied with La Salle in the A-10 standings, while only mustering 58 points on a mere 45 attempts.  Had the Owls been able to get it going from beyond the arc (3-24, hoot!), it might have been goodnight for the Big 10 champs.  Enter the Orange, a team that held its first two tournament foes to a mere 47 points per game.  Sure, they weren’t so impressive against Cal, but Syracuse still went 12 minutes–that’s an entire NBA quarter of basketball–without hitting a field goal, yet managed to win the game.  Hey, defense wins championships, right?  (I have ‘em losing to Miami in the next round though, heh heh.)