A Tortured Fanbase
In all sports, the emphasis is placed on the ending. But you’d be hard pressed to find one with more importance wrapped up in the finish than college basketball. All those weekday winter nights spent kicking ass. That six week stretch at the top of the polls. For what? The eyes of the nation are reserved for latter March and early April.
Now that myself and the rest of vol nation is over a week out from our rendition of March sadness, where does this rank in the long and painful list of Tennessee gut punches? The only debatably worse basketball loss of my lifetime would have to be the 2007 Sweet Sixteen loss to Mike Conley and Greg Oden’s Ohio State after being up seventeen at half. But this one hurt worse. I’ve never followed a more likeable team and the shear weight of Tennessee’s misfortunes seem to be having a cumulative effect at this point. I’m resigned to the fact that the breakthrough is coming when we probably least expect it. It seems to happen that way in college hoops. Look at Auburn. That team underachieved all season and look at them now. Virginia’s prospects seemed better last year than this year. Texas Tech lost four starters off of an Elite eight team, only to have a more successful tournament run the following year. Which brings me to my next point…
Addition by subtraction?
Essentially the Ewing theory. You can lose a star player, perhaps even a few, and somehow a team just seems to find a way to improve. I’m not saying that will be the case with Tennessee, but I’m also saying its plausible that it could be. We lose Schofield, Alexander, and Bone, but we bring back a certifiable baller in Turner and enter 5-star point guard Josiah James. A lot hinges on Grant Williams returning. Mock drafts I’ve seen have him going in the early 20-something range, but I still wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the two-time SEC Player of the Year giving it one more go. Given the current state of the NBA, I’m honestly not sure how well his game translates. He’s a tank, but his height is an issue. Teams want a guy that can shoot from the outside, and Grant’s range needs work. If he got another year under his belt and honed his three ball, his NBA stock would rise substantially. The Vols could benefit from him being the clear cut go-to guy for a whole season.
The kid is a special college player, and if he does choose to go, I wish him nothing but the best.
A Few Tourney Observations
Zion thoughts: I completely understand people celebrating Duke’s exit. I’m an anti-duker myself, and I got some enjoyment out of seeing them go down. Especially with the way Zion and this team were jammed down our throats. But I have to admit, part of me wanted to see them play in the final weekend. This dude is the real – deal – Holyfield. There hasn’t been a more dominate player in a long time, and he’s just a freaking kid. Besides the unbelievable hops, its his attitude that stands out to me the most. He doesn’t shy away in the big moments. He walks around like he knows he’s the baddest mother effer on the court. And I for one can’t wait to see him play against NBA talent.
Speaking of, here’s the scenario I’m cheering for. The Knicks have a 14 percent chance of landing the number one pick in the lottery. According to reports, Kevin Durant to the Garden is a done deal. If that’s the case, I’m assuming his texting buddy Kyrie Irving will come aboard as well. There’s no way KD jumps there without reinforcements. Can you imagine a more compelling trio to watch than Durant – Kyrie – Zion? The NBA is rigged as hell. Watch the league fill that lottery basket with weighted Knick’s balls and then we’re in for a hell of an entertaining squad.
Duke – Michigan State: How hilarious was Duke not having enough fouls called on them coming back to bite them in the ass at the end of that game? Karma can be a bitch.
Purdue – UVA: I’m probably guilty of recency bias, but I can’t recall a more improbable ending to a basketball game. At least one of that magnitude. There’s no way in hell that missed foul shot wasn’t intentional right? They couldn’t of had a better bounce off the rim. The sporting gods are real and its no coincidence that the kid that tossed in the tying shot dyed his hair blonde. Part of the initiation into the Illuminati involves altering your physical appearance in some manner.
Bracket Master: I did three competitions this year, and two of my brackets (including the one I threw out on this site) were total shit. But the one I did for The Athletic was pretty damn good. This is the second year in a row I’ve had one of my brackets hit 3 for 4 Final Four teams. Not bad for a primarily football handicapper. Kentucky f*** up the ever elusive perfect final pairings. I also missed one game a piece in both the South and West regions. After finishing top 5 in the Sports Gambling Podcast NFL season competition this year, a top 10 finish in the Athletic’s bracket challenge would be a nice additional feather in the 2019 cap. I’d appreciate the one-year free subscription that comes with it. I would need both Virginia and Michigan State to advance and have UVA win that game to pull it off.
I honestly put the least amount of effort into this bracket so the moral of the story is don’t try hard. Of course no tout session is complete without proof, so I’ve come prepared with receipts:
Its no secret we struggled ATS in the opening weekend, but after summoning the power of the Coin of Fortitude (a reference to a book destined to be a literary cult classic I’m privy to that’s yet to be released), we turned things around. We went 9-5 ATS in the Sweet 16 / Elite 8, boosted by going 2-0 in totals. Thank god I chose to come out of retirement with those. However I’m holding off on them this week, can’t bring myself to push it in that department and tarnish my 2019 perfect totals record.
Here’s to a profitable Saturday:
Auburn vs Virginia -6
- UVA has the edge in Field Goal %, 3-Point %, Free Throw %, and Rebounding
- UVA has the 4th best 3-point defense in the nation (Opponents shooting 28.7%)
- Auburn shoots 49.5% of their shots from behind the arc
- Auburn is 1st in the nation in steals and 5th in blocks
Allow me, if you would, to inject an ode to my grandfather here. He’s a University of Virginia graduate. The man is in his seventies and is a diehard follower of his Wahoos. He has gotten so little out of his fandom for so long (aside from the 2015 college baseball national title). After seeing his team go down to a 16-seed, he’s gotten to witness Tony Bennett’s group finally shake off the demons and get this squad to a Final Four. These tourney runs are special and if your team makes one, cherish every game.
Of the three ACC one-seeds, who honestly gave UVA the best odds to be the last one standing?
The public is backing Auburn, but beware squares, this line is up to 6 for a reason. This is a sharp contrast in styles, and I’m of the opinion that a team that likes to play slow has more of an ability to force their method of play on a team that likes to run in gun rather than vis versa. This is a tough spot for the Tigers. They’ve been hot, put I would also argue that the Purdue team that UVA beat was just about as hot as anybody. They dismantled Nova and put out a great Tennessee team.
As blazing hot as Auburn has been, water eventually finds its level. It doesn’t help they lost a pivotal piece in Okeke and an illness is currently sweeping through their locker room at the most inopportune time. We saw their shooting cool off slightly against UK, and these big Final Four arenas are notorious for throwing shooters off their game. Although their are outliers. Nova lighting it up from three in last year’s Final Four comes to mind.
With the massive advantage UVA has on the low block, it wouldn’t surprise me if they go ham on Auburn inside. In my opinion this is the end of the road for sweaty Bruce Pearl. What could really be a shame is if the FBI comes down hard on him when this is all over and this is his last hurrah. I for one appreciate Bruce Pearl and I think college basketball is better when he’s involved. Auburn has been a notoriously lousy basketball program over the years, and to get them to a freaking Final Four is an absolute hell of a coaching job.
Michigan State vs Texas Tech +2.5
- According to Ken Pom defensive efficiency ratings, TTU is the best defense in over 15 years
- Michigan State is also a top ten defense this year
- Michigan State has the edge in Field Goal %, 3-Point %, Free Throw %, and Rebounding
X-Factor: Kirk Cousins is set to give the Spartans a pre-game pep talk. I could end the breakdown right here. I would bet on TTU due to this fact alone.
While I’m sentimentally giving out odes, I’d like to give a shout out to Michigan State. I partied with a few Big10 schools on Spring Break in college and particularly them and Penn State students know how to have a good time. Panama City Beach Spring Break 2013 forever.
Why is Texas Tech of all places so relevant right now? Patrick Mahomes, Kliff Kingsbury, hell TTU provided Mike Leach his first real national spotlight.
As great as Tom Izzo is, he’s still only got one natty under his belt. That’s how damn hard it is to win this tournament. And I must say, he’s done a great job with this particular team. This is by no means the most talented group he’s taken this far and they’ve had some significant injuries as well. But they are a gutsy squad, and all they’ve done this year is win. They grabbed a share of the Big10 regular season title, won the conference tournament, beat Michigan in each meeting, and they knocked out Duke. But….
I’ve completely come around on Texas Tech. Let me gush over this squad. They clearly win the ‘best looking off the bus’ of all four teams in Minneapolis. They got some dudes that can play. And I love their attitude. Its blue collar. Its workman like. And their nasty. Jarrett Culver is the best NBA talent playing on Saturday (second would be UVA’s Hunter). David Moretti is ice water from outside (shoots 46% from deep). The more I look at it, their Final Four run has been no fluke. They’ve been the most dominate team in this tournament. I thought the Zags were the best team in America and they handled them. They’ve won 30 freaking games this year. That’s a solid number. Chris Beard is the real deal and a star coach in the making.
This will be a hell of a game. The ultimate question is will the Red Raiders be able to force turnovers the same way they did against the Zags and Michigan. It won’t be as easy to do taking on a savvy veteran point guard, but I refuse to bet against this Texas Tech defense.
UVA ML (-290), TTU ML (+125)
$100 bet pays $202.59
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