The big plan for today's post was to come in praising Rick Pitino. Believe me, I don't like the guy, but after the first half last night, I was impressed with Louisville's performance. They were up 9, and other than conceding some offensive boards, they seemed far superior to Cincinnati. My brilliant angle was going to be that even when Pitino isn't overloaded with talent, his teams inevitably have athleticism in spades and play ferocious D. More importantly, they peak in February and March while some other elite teams are fading with end-of-season fatigue. I was going to conclude by predicting that the Cardinals had an excellent shot (with the right draw) of making the Elite 8.
So I went to sleep at halftime, and then they lost. Oops! Those pesky offensive boards ended up becoming an Achilles heel, and Louisville managed only 25 points in the second half. This had to happen, of course, since I picked them to make the Big East title game. Murphy has his law for a reason, and that reason is pissing me off.
But STILL...STILL...still, I think this Louisville team is one you really don't want to see in your draw come tourney time. Their giant-killer credentials are twice proven with the Syracuse victories, so it's not like one loss to Cincy will faze them too much. They have great athletes, a guard (Edgar Sosa) who can get red-hot in a hurry, and an experienced coach who knows that 40 minutes of pressure defense can dismantle a lot of good teams in March. If the brackets come out on a Sunday and they're a 5-seed in Duke's region, I promise you I'll piss myself on the spot. (That's a promise.)
In cinderella news, Robert Morris and Montana both earned bids last night. Coincidentally, "Robert Morris and Montana" is the title of my latest screenplay. It's a comedy western starring Casey Affleck as an uptight outlaw named Robert Morris and his wacky, unreliable sidekick 'Montana,' played by Seth Rogen. If you want to get in on the ground floor by throwing me some seed money, drop me a line. At the end of the movie, Robert Morris gets so frustrated with Montana's antics that he shoots him in the heart, and then gets bit by a scorpion.
SERIOUSLY, THOUGH...read that Montana recap. They were down 22, and someone named Anthony Johnson scored 34 points in the second half (42 total), including the game-winning jumper with ten seconds left. Imagine being that guy today.
So, on to the present! Would it be hyperbole to say that today we'll be looking at the best quarterfinals of a conference tournament ever? I'm still speaking, of course, about the Big East. Of the eight teams playing, three are ranked in the top 10, five are ranked in the top 25, and seven are ranked in the top 32. The last team, Cincinnati, just beat the team ranked 34th to earn their spot in this elite crowd. I'm not going to do a lot of "research" to confirm or refute this argument, but it's gotta be close. Syracuse and Georgetown kick it off at noon. This definitely calls for a late lunch at a drinking establishment.
Time for another bracket prediction posting. This time, what the hell, let's do the SEC.
The formula was pretty simple here. First, the SEC West is terrible. They're definitely the worst division of a major conference in the entire country. They even trump the Pac-10 in futility. So I picked them all to be gone by the semis. Then, I took Tennessee over Kentucky since I think the Wildcats will start to show their inexperience, and I took Florida over Vandy because even though they went down to the Commodores twice this year, I think Donovan will have them ready to make a run, and Vandy ended the year on a sour note by losing at home to South Carolina. In the title game, I have Florida upsetting Tennesee on what will be the 4th straight game for both, and therefore kind of a crapshoot, where the Gators will be playing for more.
The dark horse team for this tournament is Georgia. They beat Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, and Vanderbilt this year, and almost just beat Vandy on the road (96-94 OT loss). Vandy will be their second round game if they beat Arkansas today, and that's a big time upset watch.
To conclude the morning post, a quick anecdote concerning Rick Pitino, as told to me by my modified basketball coach. Coach (we'll call him Doug) was a young man just out of college, working as a bus-boy in an upscale NYC restaurant. He also loved basketball, and was a HUGE Rick Pitino fan. One day, Pitino came in to eat with a group of three guys. This was sometime between '87 and '89, when he had already led Providence to a Final Four and was the head coach of the Knicks. Doug, an aspiring coach himself, went against restaurant rules and approached the table. "Coach," he said, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to say that I'm a big fan and I really admire everything you've done."
Pitino looked at him sideways, and didn't smile. "Where you from?" He spoke with a terse New York accent, and no hint of warmth.
"Saranac Lake, New York," said Doug.
"Never heard of it," said Pitino. He turned back to his table, and didn't say another word. Doug hurried back to the kitchen.