Final Four: Can one conference dominate?

I wondered what the possibility would be of a single conference putting four teams into the final four. Which conferences actually has a shot? I made up some odds off the top of my head, here they are…
 
ACC:
North Carolina, Clemson, Duke, Miami.
The ACC only has four bids in the tournament, but they are represented in each region. So while it’s not likely that Miami will reach the Final Four, you can’t discount the possibility.
North Carolina is the East region’s best bet, and Duke winning the West wouldn’t be a shock. If Clemson can get a favorable draw along the way and foul shots don’t cause them problems, they have a good chance of being there too.
 
Odds – 160 to 1
 
Big 10:
Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue.
The Big 10 also has a representative in every region. Indiana probably won’t show up, but if they do, they’re a very dangerous team and I’d consider them a Final Four threat. Wisconsin has a tough road to San Antonio but if some teams are taken out by “cinderella” they’ll be in position to crash the party. Michigan State probably won’t get past Memphis, maybe not even Marquette, that said, if Drew Neitzel gets hot they can certainly make a run. Purdue is probably the least likely of the bunch. Despite a big win over Baylor in round one, Xavier in round two, Duke in round three, UCLA in round four. It would take a small miracle for the baby boilers to reach the final four.
 
Odds – 192 to 1
 
Big 12:
Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas.
Baylor has already been knocked out, though the Bears’ chances weren’t good to begin with. I could see Texas A&M surprising UCLA in round two but running a gauntlet that might include UConn and Duke as well might be too much to ask. Texas is a very good bet to be in San Antonio, especially playing in the Houston regional. Kansas State wasn’t seeded properly and is going to have one helluva first round matchup with USC. Oklahoma isn’t 100 per cent healthy and might get picked off by St. Joes in the first round.
 
Odds – 224 to 1
 
Big East:
Notre Dame, Louisville, Villanova, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Marquette, UConn, West Virginia.
It would make sense that the biggest league would have the best chance and that’s probably the case. The 16-team Big East can boast a 2-seed, a 3-seed, two 4-seeds, a 5-seed, a 7-seed and an 8-seed. The most likely candidates are UConn out of the West, Pittsburgh out of the South, Georgetown out of the Midwest, and Louisville out of the East. All of those teams have a very good chance of being in San Antonio and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit.
 
Odds – 64 to 1
 
Pac-10:
Washington State, USC, Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon.
Since the league got 60 per cent of its members in the field, it’s only a hair behind the Big East in this category. UCLA is being picked by many to win the whole thing. Stanford is a great team but will have to go through Texas in Houston to get there. Ditto for Washington State who will have to go through North Carolina in Charlotte. USC seems to be the trendy pick but I’m not buying it. First Kansas State, then Wisconsin, followed by Georgetown and Kansas? It’s a murderer’s row of basketball teams.
 
Odds – 96 to 1
 
SEC:
Tennessee, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State.
First round exits by Georgia and Kentucky have since made this feat impossible for the SEC. But getting three of four can still be arranged. That would mean Mississippi State has to beat Memphis, one of Michigan State/Pitt, and either Texas or Stanford. Tennessee is a favourite, but it would take a lot for Vanderbilt to get there with Clemson, Kansas and Georgetown in their way.
 
Odds – N/A, already knocked themselves out.

NCAA Tournament Predictions

So here’s my kick at the can, I expect that it will be a brutal attempt and potentially one of the worst brackets ever put together. So I’ll be out of contention after the first weekend, much like the Big 10 Conference will be.

EAST
First round winners: UNC, Indiana, Notre Dame Washington State, St. Joseph’s, Louisville, South Alabama, Tennessee
Sweet 16: UNC, Washington State, Louisville, Tennessee
Elite 8: UNC, Louisville
Final 4: Louisville
 
MIDWEST
First round winners: Kansas, UNLV, Villanova, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Davidson, Georgetown
Sweet 16: Kansas, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Georgetown
Elite 8: Kansas, Georgetown
Final 4: Kansas
 
SOUTH
First round winners: Memphis, Mississippi State, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Stanford, St. Mary’s, Texas
Sweet 16: Memphis, Michigan State, Stanford, Texas
Elite 8: Memphis, Texas
Final 4: Memphis
 
WEST
First round winners: UCLA, Texas A&M, Western Kentucky, UConn, Baylor, Xavier, Arizona, Duke
Sweet 16: UCLA, UConn, Xavier, Duke
Elite 8: UCLA, Duke
Final 4: Duke
 
NATIONAL SEMIFINALS
Louisville over Kansas
Duke over Memphis
 
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Duke over Louisville

F*ck, I should’ve gone with the chalk. Here’s hoping this isn’t the first Final Four with all four No.1 seeds.

Canucks vs. Oilers: Round 7

The last time the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers played each other was just one of those nights when apparently all of hell had broken loose in General Motors Place.

The two teams combined for over 190 penalty minutes and the last minute of the game took a lot longer to play than usual because of the one…no two…no three line brawls that broke out after Alex Burrows made it 4-2 Canucks with an empty-net goal to stop the Oilers.

 Don’t expect that type of game to happen on Thursday night when the Canucks and Oilers meet for the first time since that hockey game-slash-bar room brawl back on Feb. 16.

Now don’t get your knickers in a knot just because there won’t be three line brawls.  The only reason we won’t see a repeat performance of Feb. 16 is because, right now, there is just too much at stake for both teams as they head into the final nine games of the season.

The Oilers have won nine of their last 11 games, albeit most of them in a shootout, and have climbed back into the playoff picture quietly as most of the focus has fallen on teams such the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.  Not only are the Oilers just hanging around and going about their business with much of the hockey world oblivious to their shenanigans, but they’re doing it with the likes of 18-year-old Sam Gagne, Andrew Cogliano, Tyler Brodziak and a supporting cast of players that doesn’t include Shawn Horcoff -who’s out for the season with a shoulder injury- or Ryan Smyth or Chris Pronger, both have moved onto different teams in the west.

Give the Oilers credit.  They’re a young team for the most part, but they give you an honest effort every game and they don’t back down. 

The Canucks still remain the biggest mystery in the NHL’s Western Conference because they can go from a group of tough, ornrie, focused hockey players with one common goal to a team that looks better suited for the exhibition season.  The last two games for the Canucks have been some of their best hockey.  In a 4-3 win in Dallas on Saturday and a 3-1 home victory over Phoenix last night, the Canucks have looked in sync, they have played tough hockey and haven’t backed down from their opponents.  Compare that to the two losses in Phoenix and Anaheim last week where the Canucks looked demoralized and scared of their opponents.

For the Canucks, they have nine games remaining against nine Northwest Division rivals, so they basically get a three week head start on playing playoff hockey.

To make the playoffs, the Canucks need wins.  Thank you Captain Obvious!  The Canucks also need courage.  These next nine games are going to be the toughest hockey of the season because there is very little room for error and the price will be paid physically and mentally.

For both teams, the next game and the eight that will follow are going to be what tells us what either team has.  The Canucks have had their leadership, their grit, their character questioned almost everyday since the All-Star break, so Thursday in Edmonton will be a good way to test their metal.

There won’t be 192 penalty minutes again because neither team can afford to goon it up.  Don’t kid yourself though.  Thursday will be a hard-hitting, nasty dog fight where the winner will be determined by how badly that team truly wants to win.

Saddle up, buckle your seatbelt, get strapped in, use whatever cliche you want for Thursday’s tilt, because it’s going to be a doozie.

NCAA Brackets Released

 

Time to fill out the ol’ bracket but I probably won’t have mine done for another few days so here are my immediate observations. 

 

Let’s start with the toughest bracket, the East regional in Charlotte. 

North Carolina is the overall number one seed, and rightfully so, but Tennessee should not be in their region.

Up until the Vols lost in the conference tournament they were being talked about as the final No.1 seed. 

Since the NCAA uses an S-Curve, the worst No.2 seed would be in UNC’s region.

That slots the Vols behind Texas, Georgetown and Duke.

The Longhorns get to stay in-state if they make it out of the first round

The Vols are saddled with playing the best team in the country if they can even manage to make it that far. 

A second round matchup with either South Alabama or Butler won’t be easy and S.Alabama would get to stay in-state, although UT is no further from Birmingham (site of rd.1 games) than S.Alabama. 

If the bracket held form, they’d draw Louisville in the third round, I don’t envy this Tennessee team at all, in fact, I think they got screwed. 

The East is difficult top to bottom.

Indiana as a No.8 is very low considering their talent.

They haven’t played great ball since the Kelvin Sampson debacle but if they get hot they can give UNC real problems. 

Notre Dame and Washington State make this bracket deep. There are no gimmes anywhere. 

I like UNC to reach the final four here but feel like Indiana can’t be slept on and that will be a very good second round game… assuming the Hoosiers show up against Arkansas in round one.

Carolina doesn’t have to leave the state for a single game until the final four in San Antonio. 

 

The winner of that region will face whoever comes out of the Midwest regional in Detroit. 

I was hoping Portland State would get a 15 seed but they landed into the 16 spot and will get drilled by Kansas.

This should be a cake-walk for the Jayhawks until the Elite eight. 

A lot of people are jumping on the Clemson bandwagon but I’m not buying it. Their first round game vs. Villanova will be tough and their second round game vs. most likely Vanderbilt won’t be easy either. I don’t think Clemson will make it out of the first weekend. 

The USC-Kansas State game should be fun to watch. Both teams will have a chance against Wisconsin in the second round.

Kansas State won’t have to travel far for this game and I think they get the win there.

Georgetown will most likely be Kansas opponent in the elite eight unless Davidson, who get to play in-state for the first two games, can be this year’s cinderella as a 10-seed. I like them to beat Gonzaga in round one.

I think Georgetown will be in the final four out of this region. 

 

On to the West, where most people have already crowned UCLA winners. 

They do get to stay in-state, which is nice, but this is a deep region.

No.9 Texas A&M, No.13 San Diego, No.11 Baylor and No.10 Arizona are all capable of making an upset or two and making a run in the tournament. 

Of those teams I like Baylor to advance the furthest. 

I’m really looking forward to the potential UConn-UCLA sweet 16 game but it’s possible the Huskies won’t make it that far and the Bruins stroll into the elite eight. 

Duke is my pick as the national champs this year, which pains me to say since I’m a Carolina fan.

The first part of the draw shouldn’t cause them a whole lot of trouble unless Arizona decides to live up to its potential. 

I’m probably not giving Xavier enough credit. If they get to Duke, that’s where their run ends. 

Duke is my second No.2 seed in the final four.

 

Now for the most difficult bracket to forecast in the tournament, the South.

How Oregon got a No.9 seed is beyond me but it matters not. I can see them beating Miss State but they’d have to get ridiculously hot to beat Memphis. It’s possible, seeing what they did last year as proof, but unlikely as the Tigers will play the first two games just across the state line. 

A Pittsburgh and Michigan State game in the second round would be solid basketball, maybe one of the most well-played games in the tournament. Neither team would beat Memphis though, so thanks for coming out. 

It feels like the No.10 line is really good this year. St. Mary’s was lucky to make the dance after San Diego got the automatic bid from the WCC but they’re an excellent team, capable of hurting Miami in the first round and Texas in the second. 

That said, if Texas can get out of those first two games in Arkansas, they’re my pick to make the final four.

It’s really too bad No.11 Kentucky is without the services of Patrick Patterson. They’d be a great sleeper pick to make a run. They’ve drawn the twin towers of Stanford for a possible second round game and that could be their last game especially since Stanford won’t have to leave the state. 

The Cardinal are a great team and but essentially don’t have the guard play to beat Texas. 

Playing in nearby Houston, the Longhorns should advance to the final four.

 

Setting up a Duke vs. Texas, UNC vs. Georgetown final four.

How intense would Duke vs. UNC be for the national championship?

That my friends, would be amazing. 

 

The Sports Corner will have more predictions as the week moves along.

Here’s your bracket…

 

East (Charlotte)

1 North Carolina

16 Play in game: Mt St. Mary’s vs. Coppin State

8 Indiana

9 Arkansas

5 Notre Dame 

12 George Mason

4 Washington State

13 Winthrop

6 Oklahoma

11St. Joseph’s

3 Louisville

14 Boise State

7 Butler

10 South Alabama 

2 Tennessee

15 American

 

Midwest (Detroit)

1 Kansas

16 Portland State

8 UNLV

9 Kent State

5 Clemson

12 Villanova

4 Vanderbilt

13 Siena

6 USC

11 Kansas State

3 Wisconsin

14 Cal St. Fullerton

7 Gonzaga

10 Davidson

2 Georgetown

15 UMBC

 

West (Anaheim)

1 UCLA

16 Miss Valley State

8 BYU

9 Texas A&M

5 Drake

12 Western Kentucky

4 Connecticut 

13 San Diego

6 Purdue

11 Baylor

3 Xavier

14 Georgia

7 West Virginia

10 Arizona

2 Duke

15 Belmont

 

South (Houston)

1 Memphis

16 Texas Arlington

8 Mississippi State

9 Oregon

5 Michigan State

12 Temple

4 Pittsburgh

13 Oral Roberts

6 Marquette

11 Kentucky

3 Stanford

14 Cornell

7 Miami

10 St. Mary’s

2 Texas

15 Austin Peay

Outdoor Game at Yankee Stadium?

Yankee Stadium.  It is one of the magical kingdom’s of baseball.  It is known as ‘The House that Ruth Built’  and can be lubed in with Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago as one of baseball’s most sacred stadiums.

That very same Yankee Stadium is now being discussed by the New York Rangers management and New York Yankees management as a venue for an outdoor NHL hockey game.

The big issue with this notion is that the time frame for this game between the New York Rangers and an opponent to be named later is sometime in 2009 and it would look to be the final sporting event in the historic stadium.

As NHL broadcasting legend Howie Meeker always used to say. “Stop it right there!”  The final sporting event in Yankee Stadium, where the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris -to name a select few- turned that stadium into a city icon as recognizable as the Statue of Liberty, might be a hockey game?

I love hockey, and I sincerely believe it to be the greatest sport ever invented, but I can appreciate and cherish the history of another great game in baseball.

Yankee Stadium is a baseball stadium.  It would be sacrilegious to have a hockey game in that stadium in the first place, it may very well prove as the apocalypse of the sporting world if a hockey game is the final sporting event in that cathedral.  It would show disrespect to the Yankee greats who played the game of baseball in that stadium and turned it into what it is today. 

Could you have imagined if the Toronto Blue Jays wanted to play an indoor baseball game against the New York Yankees in the old Maple Leaf Gardens?  The City of Toronto and all the Maple Leaf greats -and yes, even though the Leafs are a despised organization, they have had greats- would be up in arms in disgust at this notion. 

I am all for playing hockey outdoors.  The NHL was lucky in Edmonton and Buffalo that the climate allowed for somewhat favourable conditions, and no one can argue with the success of both outdoor games in the new century of hockey. 

Should there be more outdoor games in the NHL?  Absolutely.  Should the NHL, the New York Rangers or the Boston Bruins or the Chicago Blackhawks play a game in some of the legendary ball parks of our time that where helped built by the great legends of the game of baseball?  No.  Not a chance.

As mentioned before, it would be sacrilegious.  If you believe in the Gods of Baseball, who they might be is up to you, they would find a way to make a hockey game in Yankee Stadium a disaster.  If you thought the Curse of the Bambino was bad for all the Boston Red Sox faithful, could you imagine his wrath should hockey be played in the house that He built?