Friday, March 17, 2006
  Ooh-Ahh, up the RA; Say Ooh-Aah up the RA!
Happy St. Paddy's Day to you all! Hope you enjoy the high holy day, wherever you may be.

Well, the NCAA has a major disdain for sports betting. Even if they didn't , I don't particularly care for it. Why? Well, you didn't see my bracket. There are more words blacked out on it than a declassified CIA memo.

So, we'll recap the first day of Madness, and then embark on my day two picks. They can't be any worse than day one.

Thursday's recap
10 Seton Hall vs. 7 Wichita State
TLBR's pick: WSU; Winner: WSU
Wichita State blew Seton Hall out. Wasn't close. You could say they didn't have a prayer, but you obviously don't know much about Louis Orr.

15 Winthrop vs. 2. Tennessee
TLBR's pick: Winthrop; Winner: Tennessee
In one of the great games of the day, and definately one of the more memorable 15-2 matchups, Winthrop came oh-so-close to pulling off the upset. UT's Chris Lofton hit a game-winning deep two in the deep corner to give the Vols a 63-61 win. The desperation play that ensued for Winthrop almost had a storybook ending, even though Craig Bradshaw's shot at the basket - had it gone in - would have been waved off. Oh well.

16 Southern vs. 1 Duke
TLBR's pick: Duke; Winner: Winner: Duke
This one was no walk in the park for Duke, as a pesky Souther squad kept it within three point (40-37) with just under 16:00 left to play. But Duke eventually pulled away. No shame in Southern's game, they represented well.

9 UNC Wilmington vs. 8. George Washington
TLBR's pick: UNCW; Winner: GW
Another of yesterday's wild and exciting finishes. There were 18 lead changed and 10 ties. UNCW hit a big shot to go ahead with 20 ticks in regulation before GW hit two FT to force OT. The Seahawks had a few chances down the stretch, but GW's defense came up big. Great game.

11 Wis.-Milwaukee vs. 6 Oklahoma
TLBR's pick: Oklahoma; Winner: UWM
Way off. Not even close. Good for UWM (even though I could get drawn and quartered around these parts for saying such a thing).

14 South Alabama vs. Florida
TLBR's pick: Florida; Winner: Florida
Florida is, in my opinion, too talented this year. I love the athletic fire of Joakhim Noah and the shooting of Taurean Green. That being said, I probably just jinxed them.

13 Iona vs. 4 LSU
TLBR's pick: Iona; Winner: LSU
I'll have more words for this game, and for obvious reasons.

I sat on my couch for about 10 minutes after the game had ended with LSU winning, 80-64. I thought a lot about the last four or five years of my life, and how four of those seniors, four of those coaches, and the handful of admins sitting behind the bench, getting random facetime, affected me.

I thought about the good and bad times. The ups and downs. All the things that, to use my mother's favorite line, did not kill me, but made me stronger. Was it just a basketball game? Sure, if you live in Dubuque, Iowa and don't know any better. But to me, it meant a lot more. It was the final chapter completed. Time to turn the page, close the book, and move onto a new one.

Sitting there in silence for 10 minutes. I welled up a little. Then I shook my head. I smiled. A few text messages, IM's, and emails came across my cellphone and laptop. And after the 10 minute cooling off period, I got up, poured a glass of wine, and saluted it all. That era in my life, the connect from the past to the present, had just walked off the court for the last time.

It's not just basketball you're watching, folks, trust me. In the midst of my sadness at seeing those kids wear the gold unis for the last time, I was overtaken with almost a crippling emotion. And in light of today's worldwide Irish fest, it was fitting.

I felt lucky. Still do. Probably always will.

12 Texas A&M vs. 5 Syracuse
TLBR's pick: Syracuse; Winner: Texas A&M
I had a hunch that Syracuse would lose this, on account of my theory about BIG EAST Tourney winners. But I made this pick knowing that the winner would lose in the round of 32. Congrats to Gerry McNamara on a great career.

13 Pacific vs. 4 Boston College
TLBR's pick: BC; Winner: BC
Well, God loves the Jesuits. Pacific played tough, BC pulled away with the better athletes. If there was going to be a premature exit/closecall for the Screamin' Eagles, this was going to be the one. But I think this may have shaken the cobwebs from Coach Skinner's ballclub.

12 Montana vs. 5 Nevada
TLBR's pick: Nevada; Winner: Montana
I thought this was going to be a good one. I was wrong. It wasn't. The 12-seeded Grizz outplayed Nevada on both ends of the court, in the pregame warmups, at the pregame meal, and pretty much every other facet of this game. Good for Larry Krystowiak.

14 Xavier vs. 3 Gonzaga
TLBR's pick: Gonzaga; Winner: Gonzaga
God loves the Jesuits. He loved the 3rd seed Jezzy's more. A surprisingly good game, and congrats to both squads. Xavier fought hard, the Zags showed the kind of grit they're going to need to win more games in this tourney. Sean Miller is a rising star in coaching.

11 San Diego State vs. 6 Indiana
TLBR's pick: Indiana; Winner: Indiana
The "this could be Mike Davis' last game at Indiana" fest continues. Please, we all know it could be his last game. Could you just focus on the shampooing game itself, please? The Hoosier beat a pesky and talented SDSU squad, which you could say outplayed IU for 39 minutes. But Indiana and Robert Vaden (also in his last few games at Indiana, as he sez...GOD STOP!) hit the go-ahead three with 3.3 ticks left.

10 Alabama vs. 7 Marquette
TLBR's pick: Marquette; Winner: Alabama
I didn't touch the preview, I'm barely going to touch the post-game. All I know is that Steve Novak is the best pure shooter I've ever seen. He hits that shot 99 times out of 100.

15. Belmont vs. 2 UCLA
TLBR's pick: UCLA; Winner: UCLA
The Bruins played the Bruins. How cute. Whatever.

13 Air Force vs. 4 Illinois
TLBR's pick: Illinois; Winner: Illinois; Loser: Craig Littlepage
This game probably led Billy Packer to let out a guffaw. And what a pig-headed, ignorant, buffoonish guffaw it would have been. AFA made it close, on account of their Princeton-slow-it-down offense, but Illinois was the better team.

12 Utah State. vs. 5 Washington
TLBR's pick: Utah State; Winner: Washington
Not really close. I was mildly surprised. Not as much as hearing the story about the convicted rapist in the Utah State backcourt. Not trying to slight the guy, just surprised. He's 29 and is seemingly reformed. He paid his dues to society, so fair play to him. But he's 29 and is a felon. But the NCAA denies a sixth year of eligibility for Dawan Robinson... I digress.

Onto today's picks...
No. 15 Davidson at No. 2 Ohio State
Bob McKillop is a great coach, he's never going to leave Davidson. And neither would I. It's gorgeous down there. I love Charlotte, the cost of living down there is cheap, the restaurants are good, and... Oh, yeah, the game? Ohio State big.
TLBR's pick: Ohio State

No. 14 Northwestern St. at No. 3 Iowa
I've seen Northwestern St. play, because I stay up late and I watch random channels. They're talented and a veteran team. They might not play in the Big Ten (oooh, the big bad Big Ten...what am I saying, the BIG EAST is 0-3...), but I like them to keep the game close for 40 minutes but Alford's coaching Iowa for at least one more game.
TLBR's pick: Iowa

(author's note: in the effort of full disclosure, the Northwestern St./Iowa game is on as I'm typing this, and the Demons are on a 13-0 run. I have not changed my tune, even though the best color man in the biz, Bill Raftery, wants the "Fat Man to get a little din-din." The Big fella!)

No. 9 Bucknell at No. 8 Arkansas
Bucknell is a nine-seed and it's nice to see the mid-majors represented with such respect. Besides, Bucknell deserves it. I must admit, I don't know a whole lot about Arkansas other than (cue up my Rick Pitino accent), Scottie Thurman's not walking through that door. Corliss Williamson's not walking through that door. Alex Dillard's not walking through that door. And all the negativity in this town sucks.
TLBR's pick: Bucknell

No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 8 Arizona
With respect to Bone, Kuyps, Big O, Tex, Newt and Lynch, I'll pick the Badgers. But it doesn't mean I like it. Besides, they're the better team. Arizona just seems too discombobulated, confused, kinda like the alphabet backwards (low blow, I know, but at least it blows less than .08).
TLBR's pick: Wisconsin

No. 10 Northern Iowa at No. 7 Georgetown
NIU is another one of those Missouri Valley that Nantz and Packer are so against. Well, they're playing a big-conference team. And it's going to be one of TLBR's don't-miss games of the day. I like the Hoyas in the end. They can go big, they can go small, they defend, and they damn sure make you defend.
TLBR's pick: Georgetown

No. 11 Southern Illinois at No. 6 West Virginia
Missouri Valley vs. BIG EAST! Oh no, not again! Southern Illinois won this conference and got the automatic bid. West Virginia, down the stretch, has disappointed a bit. But John Beilein is a tremendous coach and has too many weapons. Let's go....Mountaineers.
TLBR's pick: West Virginia

No. 16 Oral Roberts at No. 1 Memphis
Thanks for playing, we have lovely parting gifts. Beware of the 900 foot Jesus. Give your Dad my best, I hope he gets well soon.
TLBR's pick: Memphis

No. 16 Monmouth (N.J.) at No. 1 Villanova
Monmouth, in a way, got lucky by playing in the play-in game. That way, the mid-major school from West Long Branch, NJ got to shake the rust off, and get the full attention of the country in their blowout win over Hampton. For a reward, they get to travel down the Pike a few exits to Philly, so their fans can travel along. But Nova wins it. (p.s. Dave Calloway would be a great choice for you AD's looking for a new coach)
TLBR's pick: Villanova

No. 12 Kent State at No. 5 Pittsburgh
We like Jim Christian because he went to the University of Rhode Island. We like the Golden Flashes. We like Maggie Dixon's Army squad, and assistant coach Colonel Magarty. I like Iron City beer, Primanti Bros., and my friend Steve and his wife live out there in the Pittsburgh area Um, I'm stalling, right?
TLBR's pick: Pittsburgh

No. 11 George Mason at No. 6 Michigan State
Michigan State and Tom Izzo ALWAYS step it up around tournament time. I remember seeing this team play in Maui and thinking, "man, if they put it all together, they..." Let's see if they can. GMU is playing without Tony Skinn, who punched Hofstra's Loren Stokes in the skinn flute. MSU pulls away late.
TLBR's pick: Michigan State

No. 10 N.C. State at No. 7 California
Leon Powe is a man. It's the give-Leon-the-ball-and-get-out-of-the-way. To me, Cal is one of those teams that, if they get a little hot right now, will be riding the pumpkin to the ball. NC State is an enigma. Lose big to Seton Hall, lose twice in two games to Wake.
TLBR's pick: California

No. 16 Albany at No. 1 Connecticut
Albany's Javar Wilson is the cousin of Dyree Wilson, former Iona great. UConn is the best college team in the country. That concludes this game preview, but not before the almost-compulsory mention of former three-time America East Champion Vermont, their former coach Tom Brennan, and standouts Taylor Coppenrath and (Pawtucket's finest) TJ Sorrentine. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Germain Mopa Njila, David Hehn, and Martin Klimes, who will return to Patrick Gym next season, with the hopes of making it four America East titles in five years - and three in his career.
TLBR's pick: Connecticut

No. 13 Bradley at No. 4 Kansas
Hersey Hawkins isn't walking through that door, Anthony Parker isn't walking through that door, Jim Les isn't walking through that door...wait, he is. But he's coaching. Pulling for Bradley, but know it's gonna be the Rock, Chalk Jayhawks...KU.
TLBR's pick: Kansas.

No. 14 Murray State at No. 3 North Carolina
Popeye Jones isn't walking through that door...ok, enough. UNC is scary good. Good enough to repeat, even. But they're also freshmen, which could mean they go from scary to scared. As much as I may not be a big fan of his, Roy Williams has done a great job with this team. Tyler Hansbrough is tough and talented.
TLBR's pick: North Carolina

No. 15 Pennsylvania at No. 2 Texas
I have Texas going to the Final Four. I have Penn coach Fran Dunphy going to Temple.
TLBR's pick: Texas

No. 9 UAB at No. 8 Kentucky
Kentucky has been up-and-down all year and UAB has upset-experience from a season ago. They play that tough, trapping pressure defense. But Rajon Rondo is a talent, the kind of talent that you ride to win in the postseason. The Wildcats get on his back and beat the Blazers in another soon-to-be classic.
TLBR's pick: Kentucky
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A daily - or every-other-day - account of all there is in my head
that's dying to get out, via my fingers.
(I vow to attack this endeavor with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.)

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