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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hey, Waddya Want, Accuracy or Fun?

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Shades of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx! Last week the Observers had an NCAA tournament dream: Marquette and Wisconsin battling in the East Regional final for a spot in the Final Four. Then, like SI, we went too far. A photo of Lazar Hayward and Jon Leuer from the teams' last game in Madison made the dream a little too vivid.

Marquette did play a thrilling game against UW, but it was a UW wearing purple. Washington bounced the Golden Eagles in the first round, 80-78, and Wisconsin fared little better, edging tiny Wofford only to get buried by Cornell in the second round, 87-69. Meanwhile, a string of upsets shredded the Observers' prediction brackets and made them wonder if their guesses are really no better than anyone else's.

Frank: What a disaster! Out of this year's Sweet Sixteen teams, each of us was correct on only a Sickly Six.

Artie: So what? It was a hell of a four days. This is the best tournament in years, just fabulous with Northern Iowa knocking off Kansas, St. Mary's over Villanova and, yes, even Washington and Cornell winning twice as 11 and 12 seeds. Plus Milwaukee's own Korie Lucious hitting a buzzer-beater to put Michigan State in the Sweet place.

Frank: Yeah, I suppose a lot more brackets than ours are toast with half of the remaining 16 seeded higher than fourth.

Artie: Even the Bracketologist in Chief got burned. Mr. Obama had Kansas and ’Nova in his Final Four. But he made up for it Sunday with that 219-212 final score in Congress, ain’a?

Frank: What made Lucious' shot even better was the fact that the pass to him almost never got there.

Artie: Yeah, that teammate heading to the hoop had to duck his head so the ball could get to Korie!

Frank: For me, though, the best moment was when that kid from Northern Iowa got the ball with a one-point lead over Kansas and about 40 seconds left. He's wide open at the three-line but there's no one in purple near the basket. So he should run some time, wait to be fouled, play it smart, right?

Artie: Wrong!

Frank: You betcha. So he launches—and drains the three to finish the Jayhawks.

Artie: Just a typical Iowa kid with a typical Iowa name—Ali Farokhmanesh. His dad used to play volleyball for Iran’s national team, so I guess that nutbag president over there will try to take credit somehow.

Frank: When that shot went in I thought of my father. When I first started playing hoops he told me, "If you get the feeling, don't be afraid to shoot." Of course at the time he was demonstrating the two-handed set shot.

Artie: Ali had time to do it that way if he wanted.

Frank: As for our state teams, well, maybe our jinxing them wasn't the only reason they lost.

Artie: I sure was disappointed with the Badgers. Ever since February, when they lost to Illinois at home and then a couple of games later at Minnesota, I was kinda worried about them. They got Jon Leuer back from injury but never seemed to get back to where they had been. They were cold against Wofford and then against Cornell I was saying, "Who are these guys?" It just seemed like they were a half-step slow; they looked gassed.

Frank: They did win their last four in the regular season, but Illinois spanked ’em again in the Big Ten tournament.

Artie: And losing to Cornell wasn't a big upset. That team can play! They can run more than the Badgers and they certainly shot well—just like Northern Iowa. I'm with Cornell all the way against Kentucky—and St. Mary's against Baylor and Ali's Bunch against Michigan State. It's tremendous theater!

Frank: Talk about dramatics, Marquette sure knows how to produce them in the tournament. For the third straight year, the breaks just didn't go their way down the stretch.

Artie: Two years ago, Stanford wins in overtime on a really tough shot. Last year, Missouri edges the Eagles in a wild one. And this time Quincy Pondexter chases down a long rebound, Washington works the clock down and Pondexter hits the deciding shot in the final second.

Frank: I have a buddy who said MU should have fouled when Pondexter got the rebound, put him in the one-and-one and guaranteed themselves the last possession.

Artie: Woulda, coulda, shoulda. They had a 15-point lead in the second half but had no answer when Washington shot their way back into it. The Huskies are no fluke, as they later showed against New Mexico. That Lorenzo Romar is a mighty good coach.

Frank: As we always say about Marquette, they left everything they had on the court. Without much size, they relied on three-point shooting more than most teams, but they were never, ever out-hustled.

Artie: Like I said, this year's tournament is the best in years because of all the upsets. I don't care that my stupid bracket is all blown up, but I have a worry. I hope the NCAA isn't going to spin this like, "See, if you like this, think of all the upsets we could have with a 96-team tournament."

Frank: As we said last week, there's no way that 31 more teams deserve to have even a remote shot at the title. Check the records: None of these Sweet Sixteen surprises is a 17-15 team. Northern Iowa is now 30-4, St. Mary's is 28-5, Cornell is 29-4. They're not big names, but they're all conference champs.

Artie: NCAA, for once leave well enough alone!

This Time for Sure

Frank: Well, even though we divined only 37.5% of the Sweet Sixteen, we still could nail 100% of the Final Four.

Artie: And why should we deny our readers such potential wisdom? Chances are they didn't do much better than we did last week. Let's reboot!

Frank: OK, in the Midwest Regional it's Northern Iowa vs. Michigan State and Tennessee vs. Ohio State.

Artie: Ohio State has come a long way with essentially just six players, mostly because they have one tremendous guy in Evan Turner. I say they get to the Final Four.

Frank: I was all set to go with Michigan State; Tom Izzo always seems to turn the Spartans on in March. But they lost a key guy Sunday in Kalin Lucas, so now I'm going with my heart and picking Ali and the Iowans.

Artie: That wouldn't bother me a bit.

Frank: In the West, it's Syracuse vs. Butler and Xavier vs. Kansas State.

Artie: K-State has been underrated all year and has great guards, but I like the way Syracuse played the first two rounds without their big guy, Arinze Onuaku. That Wes Johnson is a terrific player! I say the Orange rolls to Indianapolis.

Frank: And I'll say Kansas State, just for fun. In the East it's Kentucky vs. Cornell and Washington vs. West Virginia.

Artie: Ugh! Two coaches we love to hate, John Calipari and Bob Huggins. Well, I can never root for Kentucky and I'd love to see Cornell beat ’em, but I guess I'll hold my nose and say Huggins and the Mountaineers advance. After all, what else does West Virginia have?

Frank: Huggins and Calipari, a bully and a flimflam man. I'm saying Washington keeps finding ways to win. And in the South, it's Duke vs. Purdue and Baylor vs. St. Mary's.

Artie: I feel about Duke the same way I feel about Kentucky—privileged and overrated. I'm going with Baylor.

Frank: And because I reckon a No. 1 seed has to win somewhere, I'll go with the Dukies.

Artie: There you go, readers. We guarantee that we won't have 10 spots wrong this time.