Friday, September 30, 2005

Real Life Fantasy

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” –Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”

No time for a full Sun Belt West preview today, so I'll post something I had been working on for next week. Maybe you can chew on it over the weekend. Have a good one.

I had never caught fantasy fever until a few years ago after some high school budroes asked me to join their fantasy baseball league. I saw this as an opportunity to interact with some long-lost chums from my formative years—years rife with post-football game dances, ridiculously long conversations about who we would like to date, and an incredible amount of Sportscenter viewing. Fantasy sports seemed to be a nice arena in which to re-establish contact. We all love sports. We all love stats. We all love talking trash to one another. It seemed like a natural fit.

Admittedly, I have enjoyed the leagues, but I think that is mostly due to the fact that I do not live and die with any professional team. I can assemble a motley group of players from the Browns, Bengals, and Steelers free of guilt. I can have Derek Jeter and Jason Varitek, icons of Yankeedom and Red Sox Nation, in my lineup with no cognitive dissonance. I could put Shaq and Kobe in my starting lineup and sleep like a baby. The only team with whom I live and die is Western Kentucky University—a college team immune from fantasy statistics. I renounced my Yankee fandom years ago and I have never supported any NBA team with vigor. I loosely consider myself an Oakland Raiders fan, but that stems from the fact that Bo Jackson was my childhood hero. It is more of an obligation than a passion with the Raiders. My home state of Kentucky has no major professional sports teams and “hockey” is something that you do in the woods when lacking proper toilet facilities. A good portion of the state supports the Reds or the Bengals, but I never felt connected to either of those teams. Cincinnati is a long way from my hometown of Hudson, KY.

Why can I not get connected to a pro team? A combination of many factors probably contributed to this dilemma, including the marketing of players over teams, free agency, overpaid prima donnas, strikes, and any number of other issues. College basketball fights its own corruption demons, but I know that WKU players are not going to strike or hold out and I see the cars that many of our players drive. These guys are NOT getting plush vehicles from WKU—that is for sure. Oh, and Scott Boras does not represent any of them. That is always a bonus.

I have come to believe that the fantasy sports mentality has contributed to my lack of passion regarding any pro teams, too. Cable sports channels run scores and stats 24/7 on the bottom the screen. Every Sunday, there is a special “fantasy top 10” ticker. Tuesday night, Dan Patrick and Sean Salisbury discussed “Best Fantasy Picks” for this coming week during a segment of Sportscenter. Owning a fantasy team is the ultimate power trip, even though the owner has no real control over what a player does. It gives the illusion that one could be a good general manager, but it merely shows who can get lucky with injuries (especially in fantasy football) and who can log on the quickest and pick up Willie Parker, or whoever went nuts the week before, for insertion into next week’s lineup.

Team and atmosphere, competition and rivalry, sportsmanship in winning and losing—these ideas get shoved to the sidelines by fantasy sports. The Fantasy Mentality undermines all that is good about sports. There is no fantasy value for tailgating with college buddies. There is no stat line for the smell of popcorn wafting into my section at Diddle Arena. A last second shot to win the game registers as a measly two points in a fantasy league, but in reality it wields the terrible power to spark jubilation or strike crushing despair into thousands of hearts the moment it hits the bottom of the net. There is no added fantasy value for nippy winter walks to a college arena with wives, children, and family. No fantasy league standings can account for the power of a fight song or alma mater ringing in your ears. No bonuses apply from the halftime conversation with the elderly living encyclopedia sitting next to you who has had season tickets for thirty-five years. When my first concern is “How many yards did Corey Dillon have?”, and not, “Who won the Patriots game?”, then something is a tad askew. The value of the individual over the team serves as a sad indicator of our cultural values.

Reducing the experience of sports to a statline imprisons our passion. It fails to account for the wonderful experience of uniting with thousands of other REAL humans in cheering on a local college team or a towns’ Double-A club. It could even cause a Raiders’ fan to pick up a Denver Broncos running back in a pitiful and desperate attempt to shore up a disappointing fantasy running game or replace an injured player. And that, my friends, simply should not happen. That is an utter travesty.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to make sure that I have Travis Hafner “active” tomorrow. He’s been red hot lately.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sun Belt East Preview

The Sun Belt Conference sprawls all over Pangaea. I think it earned the moniker "Sun Belt" due to the fact that all of the member institutions reside in the Milky Way. When I say "Sun Belt East," I am referring to an area roughly the size of Neptune. The East Division alone stretches from Miami, FL, to Little Rock, AR. The West Division reaches even farther, from Mobile, AL, to Denver, CO. This is not a conference for those who hate flying or are prone to car sickness. Life on the road is long and tough in this league. (Enter saxophone riff from Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" here)

What truly stinks for fans of this conference is the lack of viable road trips for us working stiffs. The rivalry that WKU and MTSU have is nice, and UALR and Arkansas State have a healthy one as well. Maybe new member Troy can spark a rivalry with South Alabama. But each school only has one rival, if that, in the Belt. This hurts attendance and leaves fans relatively indifferent toward opponents. WKU and UL-Lafayette have developed a healthy hatred for one another, but these schools are a full day's drive apart. That makes it tough.

Despite these negatives, the Sun Belt has become steadily better over the last five years. Can the Belt maintain this improvement? Let us begin today with the East Division preview.

1. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (21-8, 9-5 conf, 2nd East)
The Tops were a scrappy band of overachievers last year, playing most of the season with sharpshooting G Anthony Winchester at power forward. Even when asked to guard opposing brutes, Winchester managed to score 18.2 ppg and shoot a blistering 45.3% from downtown. His backcourt partner in crime, Courtney Lee (14.9 ppg), returns primed for a huge sophomore campaign. The Tops also return pogo-sticking C Elgrace Wilborn (9.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 83 blks). The tragic death of G Danny Rumph this summer leaves an immeasurable emotional hole on this team, and the Tops also lost starting PG Antonio Haynes to graduation. The Toppers have a bevy of talented, but mostly unproven players waiting to contribute this season. Reserve G Ty Rogers has displayed deadeye shooting and tremendous confidence on the summer Spain tour. Redshirt PG Mike Walker has ridiculous positive buzz surrounding his athleticism and rebounding prowess. Local boy F Matt Maresca has folks excited about his development as well. If the recruits are as good as advertised, this will be the Tops deepest, most athletic team since the Willard era. They have an excellent non-conference schedule to boot and could make noise against big names like Arizona, UAB, Virginia and Georgia. The Tops are the clearcut favorite in the East.

2. Florida International Golden Panthers (13-17, 4-10 conf, 5th East)
Not since the days of Raja Bell has FIU had a team with legitimate post-season hopes. The Panthers have hope this year based on the return of All-Sun Belt F Ivan Almonte (17.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and a cast of solid contributors from last years squad (Junior Mattias was the only major loss). FIU's record was still pretty poor last year, but they score some big wins late in the year including a win over WKU and division champ UALR (a FIVE overtime game!). After an 0-7 start to the conference slate, they finished 6-5 including two wins in the Belt tourney. They return a great deal and some promising newcomers. They also just landed Kansas transfer Alex Galindo for 06-07. Coach Sergio Rouco has it going in the right direction. FIU has testy games at Michigan State, Notre Dame, and George Washington.

3. Middle Tennessee State Blue Pegasi (19-12, 7-7 conf, 3rd [tie] East). Center Steve Thomas (10.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) exhausted his eligibility, as did G Mike Dean (14.4 ppg) and F Michael Cuffee (14.3, 7.4 rpg). PG Bryan Smithson left the team in the offseason (6.9 ppg, 3.2 apg). This leaves SO G/F Marcus Morrison as the lone returning starter. The Blue Pegasi have TEN, yes TEN, new faces represented by five FR, three JC transfers, and two redshirts from last season. It's nametag time in Murfreesboro. MTSU did go on a Canadian tour this summer, and that should help team chemistry a bit.

4. Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans (18-10, 10-4 conf, 1st East). The Trojan horse has been thoroughly emptied. The Trojans lost a staggering SEVEN seniors from last year's East Division champs. G Zach Wright (11.1 ppg) represents the only returning player who saw significant minutes last season. There are six FR and six JC transfers on the roster. Coach Steve Shields will need to work some magic for his team to challenge for a third straight division crown. He did sign the top JC rebounder from last year in Rashad Jones-Jennings out of Chattanooga State. UALR has games against perennial powers Michigan State, Illinois, and Southern Illinois on the docket.

5. Arkansas State Indians (16-13, 7-7 conf, 3rd [tie] East). The Indians lost their two biggest guns in guards J.J. Montgomery and DeWarrick Spencer. Dickey Nutt is still their coach. Plus, the most recent stats on their website are from the 2002 season. Really, this last item sticks in my craw and it forces me to put them in the cellar in the East. If it makes me seem less childish, I would have placed them there anyway. They have games at Mississippi State, Mississippi, Louisville, and Oklahoma State, plus they play home-and-home with Missouri State. I will say this for ASU, they scheduled BIG this year in the non-conference. Sadly, I see many merciless beatings in their future in the non-conference. Of course, I hope they prove me wrong.

Tomorrow, we go westward.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Preaseason Bracket: Oakland

This is the final preseason regional bracket. Now you can print these out, save them for March, and come back here and prove how wrong I was. Good times. Although, I must say that this will be the only bracket until the end of the non-conference season. This one is just for kicks and giggles. Shortly after Christmas, I will build a bracket based on what teams did in November and December.

Tomorrow, a preview the Sun Belt East Division is on tap.

Oakland Bracket
Games in Dallas, TX
1. Texas
16. Montana State

8. Indiana
9. Northern Iowa

Games in Salt Lake City, UT
5. Maryland
12. Georgetown

4. Iowa
13. San Diego State

Games in Salt Lake City, UT
6. Alabama
11. Western Kentucky

3. Gonzaga
14. Pacific

Games in Philadelphia, PA
7. Kansas
10. North Carolina

2. UConn
15. Boston U.

On paper, Texas looks like a terrifying team. P.J. Tucker, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Brad Buckman pack some serious beef up front and all are capable scorers. PG Daniel Gibson may be the best PG in America. G Kenton Paulino will be asked to step up his perimeter production. If the Horns get consistent outside shooting, they will be a monstrosity...Dickie V, Andy Katz, and Athlon all have IU in the top 20 and Yoni Cohen has the Hoosiers at #23. Can they all be wrong? The Hoosiers have NCAA talent, so this could be their comeback year. It's do or die for Davis...Northern Iowa plays the role of favorite for a change in the MVC this year. Creighton will challenge and SIU always seems to find a way, but the Panthers have the strongest club on paper. They return all five starters from last year's NCAA at-large club. Check out sharpshooter Ben Jacobsen when you get a chance...Georgetown back in the bracket; conjures up images of Michael Jackson (no, the other one), David Wingate, Reggie Williams, and company...San Diego State has the most talent in the Mountain West, but they are coached by Steve Fisher. That does not inspire confidence, but perennial power Utah and defending tourney champ New Mexico look to be down...I know that you think WKU's inclusion is coming from bias, but nearly everyone is picking the Tops to win the SBC. UL-Lafayette and Denver will challenge from the West, but the Sun Belt Tourney is in Murfreesboro, TN, just a mere 1.5 hours away from WKU. There will be a BIG home court advantage for the Tops against everyone save MTSU in the Belt tourney...What would your reaction have been to this statement ten years ago? "By 2005, Gonzaga University will be a mainstay as a 2/3 seed in the NCAA tournament." Yeah--me, too. All things are possible...UConn, Kansas, and North Carolina--all in the same pod? KU and UNC were decimated by graduation, transfers, and the NBA. UConn has had issues of its own (stolen computers anyone?), but return super big men in Josh Boone and Rudy Gay. If Marcus Williams can stay clean, the Huskies will be just fine.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Preseason Bracket: Minneapolis

The preseason bracket unveiling marches on in its third of four installments. The final region (Oakland) comes tomorrow.

Minneapolis Bracket
Games in Auburn Hills, MI
1. Michigan State
16. Northwestern State

8. Miami-FL
9. Old Dominion

Games in San Diego, CA (I love lamp.)
5. Iowa State
12. Pittsburgh

4. Stanford
13. Oral Roberts

Games in Greensboro, NC
6. Nevada
11. Ohio

3. Louisville
14. Winthrop

Games in Dallas, TX
7. LSU
10. Ohio State

2. Oklahoma
15. Manhattan

If Michigan State can indeed secure a one seed, Auburn Hills is quite a nice fit for them as a first round locale. They will need solid PG play from Drew Neitzel and a big year from C Paul Davis to achieve that lofty goal...ODU returns four of their top five scores from last year including Colonial POY C Alex Loughton. The Monarchs have major potential...Curtis Stinson from Iowa State is one of my favorite players. The do-it-all guard lays it on the line on every possession and can score, drive, dish, and plays great defense...Carl Krauser's return keeps Pitt in the bracket, but they have serious holes to fill in the vicious Big East...This may be a tad high for Nevada, but they should win a TON of games and the long and gangly Nick Fazekas is difficult to keep in check...Louisville has MANY question marks and will have to replace the "guts" of its team. SR's Larry O'Bannon, Ellis Myles, and Otis George were dirty work players that came up big in clutch situations and F/G Francisco Garcia was their most talented player. If the Cards newcomers do not deliver, they could be much lower...Winthrop is going to get someone one of these years. They slugged it out toe-to-toe with Gonzaga in the first round last year and return much of that team...This may be a year early for Ohio State, but they return Terrance Dials and a good supporting cast from a team that won twenty games last year...Oklahoma will have one of the most formidable frontcourts in the country, but the exodus of PG Drew Lavender will have them relying on unexperienced guard play, which is always dangerous.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Preseason Bracket: Washington DC

The bracket revelation continues today with the Washington, DC bracket. The other two regions come tomorrow (Minneapolis) and Wednesday (Oakland), with a full Sun Belt Preview coming on Thursday and Friday.

Games played in Dayton, OH
1. Villanova
16. Hampton or Alabama A&M

8. Charlotte
9. Florida

Games played in Auburn Hills, MI
5. Memphis
12. California

4. Illinois
13. Bucknell

Games played in Jacksonville, FL
6. Wisconsin
11. Creighton

3. Kentucky
14. Pennsylvania

Games played in Philadelphia, PA
7. Oklahoma State
10. Cincinnati

2. Boston College
15. Gardner-Webb

Why is Nova not in Philly, you ask? Well, the Wildcats play three games at the Wachovia Center this year during the regular season making it a "home court" by selection criteria standards. Hence, the Cats are ineligible for games at that venue. Tough break...Everyone else seems to really like Memphis this year, but it seems that they are ALWAYS ranked highly early on, only to underachieve. They have 2/3 seed talent, but I need proof on the court...This writer does not believe that Illinois is not going to fall as far as everyone says. Dee Brown is a POY candidate and the Illini have redshirt soph F Brian Randle back this year. He misssed last season with a broken hand after playing in 32 games (starting nine) as a true FR. Brown, Randle, James Augustine, and Rich McBride are a solid nucleus and the Illini have lots of young talent in the wings including 2004 Illinois State POY G Calvin Brock...Keep an eye on Bucknell. They return ALL FIVE starters from last season's 2nd-round NCAA team and they have scheduled like a team with big expectations (games at Syracuse, Duke and DePaul, and home games vs Villanova, Saint Joseph's, and the Bracket Buster)...No one expects much from Bo Ryan and Wisconsin, which is exactly why they will be just fine...Kentucky is lower if Randolph Morris is declared ineligible...There is not much buzz around Oklahoma State, but their tenacious team defense and the Gallagher-Iba Arena advantage is not going away...Cincinnati is hard to figure with Huggins gone. They have enough talent returning to stay afloat through troubled waters...Penn lost talented G Tim Begley, but return a great deal from last years 13-1 Ivy League champs...Boston College has two of the best frontcourt players in the country in Jared Dudley and Craig Smith. They should make a big splash in their ACC debut.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Preseason Bracket: Atlanta

I've been trying to decide the best way to do this preseason bracket thing. I thought about revealing it by seeds, but then readers do not get the bracket effect. So, since this IS the "Bracket Board" and all, I'll reveal one regional bracket each day over the next four posts.

The Final Four will be played in Indianapolis this season. As you may remember from last season, the regional brackets are no longer named by direction (East, West, Midwest, Southeast), but by the regional host city. This year, the host cities are Washington DC, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Oakland. There are eight host cities for the first and second round games and each city hosts two pods consisting of four teams. The 1st and 2nd round hosts are Philadelphia, Greensboro, Jacksonville, Dayton, Dallas, Auburn Hills (MI), San Diego (stay classy), and Salt Lake City. The overall #1 on my S-Curve (see TBB Lexicon) is the ESPN All-Stars (aka Duke), so we will begin in the Atlanta region.


Games played in Greensboro, NC
1. ESPN All-Stars
16. Fairleigh Dickinson

8. Syracuse
9. Texas Tech

Games played in Jacksonville, FL
4. Iowa
13. UW-Milwaukee

5. Washington
12. UAB

Games played in Dayton, OH
6. George Washington
11. Arkansas

3. West Virginia
14. Davidson

Games played in San Diego, CA (thanks for stopping by)
7. Wake Forest
10. Minnesota

2. Arizona
15. Eastern Kentucky

This could be a little low for Syracuse. I have a feeling that they will miss Hakim Warrick a LOT and someone has to lose some games in the Big East. Not all of those teams are going to win a ton of conference games. I may be expecting too much from WVU, but even though they lost two strong frontcourt players, they have some amazing perimeter firepower returning. This is a do-or-die year for Stan Heath at Arkansas and there are no excuses. He has arguably the best player in the conference in Ronnie Brewer and the Hogs only lost one SR from last year's team. What to do with Wake. They still have good talent, but they lost the focal point of their team. They could finish anywhere in the ACC. George Washington is poised for a big, big year with the return of Mike Hall and Pops Mensah-Bonsu from their NBA draft flirtations. Duke is often overrated in the preseason, but not this year. The ESPN All-Stars are clearly the early favorite.

PS--Topper fans, notice the familiar name on UW-Milwaukee's roster. The Massiah has returned.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Arizona and Virginia...and Michael Southall?

Today ends the look at the WKU non-conference schedule with Arizona and Virginia. It may be a bit presumptuous of me to preview Arizona when the Tops will first have to defeat UCF to get to the Arizona/Sam Houston State winner in Tucson, but I'm an optimist. By no means is this a slight toward UCF, but if WKU does win against the Golden Knights, there is a 99% chance that the Hilltoppers will face Zona on their home court. Tomorrow, I will begin revealing my preseason bracket with the four 1/16 matchups.

Provided that WKU can get past UCF (NOT a given), the Tops will square off against the Wildcats in the McKale Center on December 21. WKU met Zona in Tucson in the 2002-2003 season and was torched by a shooting display normally reserved for 4th of July and millennial celebrations. This Zona team will not have the kind of firepower that those dudes had, but they will be a solid club.

The Cats did lose two HUGE pieces of last year's Elite 8 team that had Illinois on the deck, only to see the cagey Illini get off the mat and snatch away an unlikely win in the waning minutes. Zona lost C Channing Frye and deadeye shooter SG Salim Stoudamire; arguably their two best players. However, they return nearly everyone else (they also lost little-used Matt Brase) from that team including G/F Hassan Adams (12.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg), F Ivan Radenovic (8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), and PG Mustafa Shakur (8.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.5 apg). Experienced seniors C Isaiah Fox and G Chris Rogers will have to be leaders and increase their production. They also need a big boost in production from C Kirk Walters. Talented F Jawann McClellan was recently declared ineligible for the fall semester, but he is appealing the decision. Arizona, per usual, has two big-time recruits ready to contributee in 6-6 G J.J. Prince and 6-7 F Marcus Williams. The Wilcats are a consensus Top 10 team in the preseason.

In addition to the Pac-10 and Fiesta Bowl Classic games, Zona's other highlight games include the LOADED Maui Invitational (vs Kansas first round), at Utah, at North Carolina, and the Cats host Saint Mary's and Virginia. They have a tremendous schedule. If this game materializes, it will likely be the toughest opponent that the Tops face in the regular season.

Oh, what a bitter loss the Tops took in Charlottesville last winter. The double-OT battle came down to a scrum for a loose ball that was eventually seized by Cavs G J.R. Reynolds, who laid it in for the game winner. Ugh. That UVA team went on to finish 14-15, and they have lost A LOT. Coach Pete Gillen has been relpaced by Dave Leitao. Their two top scorers, F/C Elton Brown (12.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and F Devin Smith (16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), exhausted their eligibility. Then, F Gary Forbes (9.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg) announced that he was transferring. The Cavs return guards T.J. Bannister (4.5 ppg), J.R. Reynolds (10.5 ppg), and Sean Singletary (10.7 ppg), but there are HUGE questions in the frontcourt. Big-time production is needed from F Adrian Joseph (4.2 ppg), F Jason Clark (6.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and a host of unproven centers. The perimeter should be solid, but the interior is going to make or break UVA.

In addition to a rugged ACC slate, the Cavs have highlight games at Arizona and at Gonzaga. The rest of their lineup is pretty soft. They play Northwestern in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Longwood, UM-Baltimore County, Liberty, Loyola (MD), and Hartford round out the home slate. Yikes. The Cavs also visit Richmond. I like the Tops chances for revenge in Diddle, but UVA will have one of the better backcourts that WKU will see this year.

Michael Southall
From the "Please, I Deserve a 93rd Chance" department, it appears that the UL-Lafayette sometimes-center is enrolled in fall classes and is eligible for his senior campaign. Apparently, Southall was able to keep up with enough academic work WHILE IN JAIL and then take enough summer courses to gain eligibility for his final season. If he meets Coach Robert Lee's stipulations, he is in line to suit up this season. If you are unfamiliar with Southall's background, here's a primer:

1. Signed with Kentucky. Busted for marijuana. Headed south to Georgia Tech.
2. Busted for pot (again). Sent packing by GT. Landed at ULL.
3. Played spottily through arrests (wonder why?) and academic issues. Completely off the map last year.
4. Served a jail term.
5. Somehow maintained eligibility and now claims he has everything together.

We'll see how this turns out. He has some talent, but this guy has been nothing but bad news since Day 1 everywhere he has been. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bradley and UCF

Today, we continue the WKU non-conference schedule breakdown with Bradley and Central Florida. Tomorrow, we will wrap it up with Arizona and Virginia. On Friday, I will reveal the 1-seeds in my preseason bracket.

Aside from having the worst athletics website of any team on the preview so far, I like the Braves' team this season. Take one senior 1st-team all-conference player (F Marcellus Sommerville, 17.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg), add in experienced seniors (PG Tony Bennett, F Lawrence Wright), and top it off with EVERY player returning from last year's team, and you have yourself a pretty promising squad.

The enigmatic Braves started 9-2 last season, including a win over DePaul, but finished on a 2-9 tailspin to end a once promising campaign. They will need consistent play in the MVC if the hope to reach the post-season, which is reasonable goal for this squad. Northern Iowa and Creighton figure to be the cream of the crop, but BU can challenge Wichita State, SIU, and Missouri State in the second tier for an NCAA or NIT bid. I'm betting the NIT is likely for BU. This game is in Peoria, so I expect a dogfight between the Tops and Braves on December 14.

I cannot locate a schedule for BU at this point, but I will pass it along whenever it is released.

Central Florida
The Golden Knights are getting short-changed by pundits. Typical "big conference bias" says that UCF is not ready to compete with teams in the CUSA, despite their back-to-back NCAA appearances and the 23rd most wins of all of the programs in the country over the last three seasons. I beg to differ. The cupboard is far from bare, and the CUSA is far from the conference it was last season. The Knights may not be ready for Memphis or UAB, but I think they can hang with East Carolina, Southern Miss, SMU, Rice, and anyone else in the CUSA.

Although they lost their starting backcourt, UCF returns their entire front line in G/F Josh Peppers (13.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg), F Anthony Williams (11.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg), and C Will Bakanowsky (6.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg). They also add NC State transfer Mike O'Donell (briefly linked to WKU as a transfer rumor) to run the point. I just cannot see the doom and gloom that most pundits are predicting. Yes, the CUSA is a tougher conference than the Atlantic Sun, but UCF has been a 20-win team for several years now. They are returning enough to compete.

Their schedule is highlighted by games at Florida and at Kentucky. The Tops and Knights square off in Tucson, Arizona, at the Fiesta Bowl Classic on December 19. The winner takes on the winner of Arizona/Sam Houston State.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Evansville and Pacific

The WKU non-conference schedule breakdown continues today with two home games: Evansville (Tuesday, December 6) and Pacific (Saturday, December 10).

The Purple Aces handed the Tops their first loss last season in Evansville as The Bracket Board and several hundred other WKU fans watched in amazement. After leading 30-20 with under 6 minutes to go in the first half, the Aces ripped off a tremendous run and put away the Tops after fighting off a late WKU comeback. Topper fans dread the biannual trek to E-ville, becuase the Aces' renowned homecourt advantage makes it virtually impossible to escape with a victory. The Purple Aces were 10-5 at home last season and 1-12 away from Roberts Stadium. I have been making road trips with the Tops for nearly a decade now, and I can honestly say that the officiating has only played prominently in two losses that I have witnessed. Both were at Evansville. Sour grapes? Maybe, but I watch enough games to know when we are getting hosed. In the hundreds of WKU I've watched, only two get perfect 10's on the "Hose-O-Meter." Those are at E-ville at 2004 and 2002. Take that for what it's worth.

The Aces visit Diddle Arena this year, and the Toppers will be supercharged to avenge last year's defeat. Not only will the Tops have revenge on their mind, but UE lost its two top scorers in Topper-killer G Lucius Wagner (14.1 ppg) and G/F Andre Burton (11.8 ppg). They return three starters in F Matt Webster (10.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg), C Bradley Strickland (10.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), and G Kyle Anslinger (9.0 ppg). The Aces will need help from the six newcomers to improve upon last year's 11-17 mark.

E-ville plays a pretty soft non-conference slate with games against Marshall (twice, home and away), Loyola-Chicago, Purdue, Western Illinois, Campbell, and Austin Peay. They will need to win a lot of those games before they begin the rigors of the MVC schedule if they hope to equal or surpass last year's eleven wins. They finished with an RPI of #257 last year, so there is potential RPI poison from the Aces.

The Tigers have had a great couple of years. Two NCAA tourney appearances with wins over Providence in 2004 and Pitt in 2005 have kept Pacific in the limelight as one of the top teams in the country. The Tigers sustained heavy losses after last season, losing starters C Guilliame Yango (13.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg), G David Doubley (12.3 ppg, 43% 3-pt FG), F Jasko Korajkic (8.0 ppg, 4.7 ppg), and Marko Mahailovic (5.8 ppg). They also lost an important role player in F Tyler Newton (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg). This Tiger team will be mesh of talented F Christian Maraker (13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 39.4% 3-pt FG), some former bench players and nine (yep, NINE!) new faces.

UOP has not released their schedule at this date. I will update as soon as they do. I still like their chances in the Big West with Maraker, Coach Bob Thomason, and their 51-12 record over the last two seasons, but Cal-Fullerton (including former Topper Jamaal Brown) will present a major challenge.

Monday, September 19, 2005

UAB and Eastern Kentucky

The WKU non-conference schedule breakdown continues today with two games that will certainly be road trips for The Bracket Board. UAB and Eastern Kentucky will both provide tough tests for the Tops for different reasons.

The Tops will travel to Birmingham to face the Blazers on Tuesday, Nov 29, in what promises to be a rip-roaring affair. UAB has been playing the "40 minutes of hell" brand of hoops under Coach Mike Anderson for a few years now. Out of the 1990's Arkansas mold, they really push the pace and try to speed up the tempo in order to cause havoc for opposing teams. They ran LSU off the court in last year's NCAA tourney in the first round before falling victim to an Arizona team that was hitting it's stride. The Tops are looking to play a similar fast-paced style, though maybe not as Tazmanian devil-ish as UAB would like.

The Blazers lost the Taylor Twins, Donell (15.5 ppg) and Ronell (11.0 ppg), and big man Marques Lewis (8.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg) from last year's squad. They do return waterbug PG Carldell Johnson (2.7:1 Asst/TO ratio, led team in mins), SG Marvett McDonald (77 treys made at 36%), as well as a big-time player in F Demario Eddins (12.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) up front. All of these guys are seniors and the Blazers have a whopping seven seniors total on the roster. This will be a tough road trip for the Tops.

At this writing, UAB has not released their schedule, but I will post a link and hit the highlights as soon as it is available. This is an experienced team in a weakened CUSA. With Louisville and Cincinnati (and Marquette, and DePaul, and...) off to the Big East, Memphis is the only CUSA team that can legitimately claim to be better than UAB in the preseason. The Blazers should be able to win a lot of games.

Eastern Kentucky
The Colonels made an appearance in the NCAA tourney last year for the first time since the BeeGees were bangin' out hits. WKU will boogie across the state to face EKU in a bitter rivalry game on Saturday, December 3. UK and UL soak up most of the media attention in this state, but this a tremendous rivalry. In a football matchup on September 9, WKU just edged EKU, 23-21, on a field goal as time expired in front of a sold out Smith Stadium on the campus of WKU. This rivalry has bite and the Colonels' resurgent hoops program will only pour kerosene on the blaze that has been recently intensified by a bitter EKU loss on the gridiron. Did I mention it was on a field goal as time expired? I did? Oh.

The Colonels lost a good bit from last year's squad including coach Travis Ford. The Kentucky native headed north to attempt a resurrection of the UMass program. They replaced him with a hot assistant coach from a hot program: Jeff Neubauer from West Virginia. I talked to some EKU fans at the WKU/EKU football tilt who were very high on Coach Neubauer. WKU won that game on a last second field goal as time expired. Quite thrilling. EKU also lost solid frontcourt presence F Michael Haney (13.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg) to graduation and G/F Zach Ingles (11.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg) to, um, "other" reasons. They do return nine letter winners led by senior PG Matt Witt (14.4 ppg, 6.3 apg), senior C Alonzo Hird (9.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg), and G Jason McLeish (8.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg). They should be a player in the OVC once again, although Murray State probably has the most overall talent. Of course, Murray State had the most talent last year and lost in the first round of the OVC tourney.

I cannot wait for this trip to Richmond. I expect the Tops and Colonels to square off in a packed and hostile McBrayer Arena (6,500) on Dec. 3. Maybe the Tops can win on a field goal as time expires.

Did I tell you about the WKU/EKU football game?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Up and Running! And Georgia.

This is the new home for the Bracket Board. I hope you enjoy the new digs. This space allows for no pop-up ads and looks cleaner than the old blog. Please check out the "About TBB" section to the left. I'd love to have feedback from you on those items. They are currently below this post on the main page for now.

On with the next non-conference opponent for WKU: the Georgia Bulldogs.

"You made me cry, you told me lies, but I can't stand to say goodbye. Mama, I'm coming home." ~Ozzy Osborne

OK, maybe that's a harsh line to describe how I feel about UGA coach Dennis Felton. After all, the former WKU coach led the Toppers from the depths of Kilcullendom (aka Mordor) to three straight NCAA appearances. He unearthed a massive gem in Chris Marcus. He ran a program that exuded class (save one incident or two) and demanded excellence. So, despite the quote about never leaving WKU unless it was his "dream job (scandal-ridden Georgia?)," the man has my respect. He should be welcomed with open arms and warm hearts in his return to Diddle Arena. I'll save my "Felton Returns" post for later when he actually comes back. Let's talk about the team.

The hairy Dawgs could hunker down and be a surprise team in the SEC. Kentucky looks to be a clearcut frontrunner in the SEC East, and Vandy and Tennessee are expected to challenge Florida for the #2 slot. South Carolina and Georgia probably have the lowest expectations, but WKU made a quantum leap in year three under Felton. It will be interesting to see if UGA can do the same. They are my darkhorse pick to do well in the SEC, mainly because they return ALL FIVE starters coupled with a good recruiting class, and this will be the third year of buy-in to Felton's in-your-face, half-court style of play.

In addition to the SEC slate, which is likely to be down (again), the Dawgs open the season against a very good Old Dominion team in the Paradise Jam. If they win, a possible matchup with Wisconsin looms. In addition to the road tests at WKU, at Nevada, and at Oregon State, UGA will host Georgia Tech and Clemson. The Dawgs have a fairly challenging non-conference slate.

Of all the games on WKU's schedule, this one has to be the most intriguing. The reason UGA is coming to Diddle is because of a nifty clause in Felton's WKU contract. The clause said that if Felton left for another school, that school must engage in a four year, home-and-home series with WKU. It was a stroke of genius by WKU athletic director Wood Selig. Hopefully, this game will allow WKU to show it's appreciation of Coach Felton and also send his Dawgs home scalded and yelping from a blistering at the hands of the Tops. After that, I hope they win the SEC.

TBB Lexicon

The Bracket Board Lexicon

Blue Pegasi: Also known as the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, MTSU
sports one of the most inane mascots on the planet. Hence, they are referred to as the Blue Pegasi. How “Blue Raiders” become manifested as “Goofy Winged Horses” is beyond my comprehension.

Bubble Boys. A Seinfeld reference, here meaning teams that are “on the bubble” for the NCAA Tourney. I break these boys down weekly once we get into conference play.

ESPN All-Stars
. AKA Duke. If there is any explanation needed, then you are a Duke fan.

Great Red Pterodactyl, The (aka “Everyone’s Favorite Pterosaur”). WKU center Elgrace Wilborn.

Lockbox. A conference-by-conference list of NCAA hopefuls. Teams are color coded by their safety status in the weekly bracket. Teams listed in all caps with black text have achieved “lock” status…in other words, they cannot miss.

One Stop Shop. All thirty conference tourney brackets in one place on this site.

OOWP. Opponents’ Opponents Winning Percentage.

OWP. Opponents Winning Percentage.

S-Curve. All 65 teams are ranked and then placed into the bracket. That ranking is called an S-Curve.

Shooter McGavin. AKA J.J. Redick. Winner of last year’s Villain Award.

RPI. Ratings Percentage Index. A tool used by the NCAA Selection Committee.

SOS. Strength of Schedule.

Toppers, Tops. Short forms of the more formal “Hilltoppers.”

Conference Cacophony

Conference Cacophony

Majors, mid-majors, low-majors, BCS conference, small conference…these labels get tossed around every college basketball season and no universal agreement has been reached on the meaning of these terms. Big Six-type conferences are accused of having huge advantages through television exposure, access to funds, soft non-conference schedules laden with home games, choice seeds in the NCAA tournament, and other plum benefits. The “little guys” must win their conference tourney, even if they go 24-2 in the regular season and stumble in their conference tourney (see Utah State’s banishment to the NIT in 2004).

For our purposes here at the Bracket Board, I will refrain from referring to conferences in this manner. I will use the term "power conferences," because that one is somewhat accurate. Some conferences have more power than others. That does NOT mean that they play better basketball. The major/mid-major label only perpetuates the idea that only teams from “major” conferences play important or good basketball. There are 31 conferences in Division I basketball. They all play for bids to the same national championship tournament. They all have an avenue to get there (unlike D-IA college football). All of these schools play “major” college basketball.

UW- Milwaukee, Vermont, Bucknell, Holy Cross, Pacific, Gonzaga, Niagara, and Nevada were all good basketball teams in 2004-2005. Teams should be judged on their individual merits without being viewed through the lense of “small conference team.” Of course there are more high-quality teams in the ACC or Big East than there are in the America East or Patriot in any given year. But that does NOT mean that a mid-pack “Big Six-type” team deserves an NCAA tourney bid over a team like Northern Iowa, or vice versa. The 2005 NCAA Selection Committee got it right last year by leaving out Notre Dame and Maryland and including Northern Iowa. They also got it right by including Iowa over Miami-OH. It is all about what each team has done, not the conference in which they play. As Jerry Palm of says, “Teams get bids, not conferences.” Yes, it helps your Strength of Schedule and RPI to play in the Big East or Big XII, but it does not necessarily make you a better team or give you a better NCAA profile than a top team in the Sun Belt or MAC, or vice versa.

Why the Sun Belt lean?
I am an unapologetic Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers fan…TO THE MARROW. I fight my own biases. I hate The ESPN All-Stars. I loathe the SEC. As a converted Kentucky Wildcat fan (I had no choice growing up in rural north-central Kentucky), I maintain a strong hatred of Louisville and now enjoy Kentucky losses. I take glee in Tennessee and Cincinnati defeats. I am a fan. My Toppers compete in the Sun Belt conference, so readers will get a heavy dose of Belt Breakdown. But, I can check my biases at the door when doing bracketology. I will let my track record speak for itself (I had The ESPN All-Stars as a 1-seed and Kentucky and Louisville as 2-seeds in my final projection last year). Just because I do not like a team does not mean they are overrated or that they are not any good, and just because I am a WKU does not mean I will give them special treatment.


Why do bracketology?

Viewing teams as possible seeds instead of relying strictly upon poll rankings offers many advantages.

  1. It is an active exercise. Evaluating RPI, overall record, road record, top 50 wins, sub-100 losses, recent record, and other hard data allows bracketologists to gain a better understanding of what a team has accomplished. Looking at polls is a passive exercise. Bracketology uses the actual NCAA selection criteria to give fans an idea of what the bracket might look like week to week.
  2. Engaging in bracketology from Day One gives fans a better idea of a team’s journey through the season. For example, take the 2004-05 Iowa Hawkeyes. I had them at a 3 seed at the end of the non-conference schedule. On Jan 4, they were 12-1 and had beaten Louisville, Texas, Iowa State, and Texas Tech. They proceeded to open 4-9 in Big Ten play and managed to fall completely out of the bracket. Then, they recovered to win their final three regular season games and two games in the Big Ten Tournament before falling to Wisconsin in the semis and earning a bid in the NCAA Tourney. They were absent from the polls for most of their roller coaster journey.
  3. Most fans would rather know where they stand in regards to the NCAA picture than where a panel of coaches (or, more accurately, SID’s or assistant coaches) rank their team in a poll. I know that the Final AP poll is a better predictor of seed than the RPI, but it is not a better predictor than serious bracketologists.
  4. Finally, looking at the seeding motivates one to look at conferences other than the power conferences. Seed lines 13 through 16 come almost exclusively from conferences other than the power conferences. These teams are NOT afterthoughts; in fact, they make up more than one quarter of the national championship bracket! Furthermore, a few of them end a handful of contenders’ (or pretenders’) hopes of the Final Four on the first weekend (Bucknell, Vermont, and UW-Milwaukee spring to mind from the 2005 tourney). Bracketology gives the fan a deeper, more complete understanding of what is happening during the season in all 31 conferences.

Why do bracket projections so early? Isn’t is pointess?
Why have polls so early? I rest my case. It is sports. It is conjecture. It is just for fun. And, it lets the fan track teams’ adventures from November 1 until Selection Sunday. In fact, until about the mid-point of the conference season, some “Bracket Board Bias” does exist in my bracket projections. But, the more games that are played, the more a bracketologist can rely strictly on the teams’ accomplishments. Only on Selection Sunday will it TRULY matter. I think of early season bracketology as practicing for my final bracket projection.

The RPI: It’s all about purpose
The new RPI is no screwier than the old one. It's ALWAYS been screwy...if you look at the RPI as a measurement of who is the best team.

The reason for this stems from the not-so-widely-known true purpose of RPI. It is NOT a tool to rank the best the teams in order like the AP poll. It is a tool to show how a team performed against its schedule. There is a BIG difference.

Louisville Courier-Journal sportswriter Rick Bozich wrote an anti-RPI piece pointing to the fact that Kentucky trailed Gonzaga in the RPI. In his eyes, UK was clearly a better team (I happened to disagree, but I digress). Here is part of my response to Mr. Bozich:

“In reference to Kentucky's relatively poor RPI rating (11, which is excellent) compared to their lofty AP poll position (#3), you wrote that, ‘Yet the Wildcats sit 11th in the latest RPI behind Gonzaga (losses to Missouri, St. Mary's and San Francisco) and Arizona (ugly losses to Virginia and Washington State).’ That stems from the fact that UK played William and Mary, Campbell, Morehead State, and Georgia State in the non-conference. They did play UNC, Kansas and Louisville, but went 1-2 in those games. Gonzaga played a few patsies, too, but also played Illinois, Georgia Tech, Washington, and Oklahoma State in the non-conference, going 3-1 in those games.

Regardless of who is better, Gonzaga has performed as well as (or better than) Kentucky against their given schedule. That is what the RPI intends to measure and does so effectively. If Kentucky or Charlotte wants a higher RPI, they might want to schedule a little tougher in the non-conference than they did this year. In Charlotte's case, they might want to avoid losing to East Carolina and at home to Rutgers, while they are at it.

A lot of the wailing about the new RPI comes from a lack of understanding regarding it's purpose.”

I could not have said it better myself…only because I wrote it.

Mission Statement

Many fans lament the reliance upon polls in college basketball. Seeing preseason numbers in front of a team’s name often stems from the past success of a program or coach. Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona and Kansas are always safe picks in the polls. They usually put high-caliber teams on the court and win a large percentage of their games. Naturally, if a team begins the season with a high ranking, it takes more losses for them to drop out of the rankings. Conversely, if a team is off of the radar to start the season, it takes longer for them to climb in the polls.

The Bracket Board views teams in relation to the NCAA selection criteria to make the playing field even for everyone…at least in regards to what teams have accomplished. Power conference teams obviously have a scheduling advantage over non-power conference teams, so the playing field is not entirely even, but every team’s status is based on what they have actually accomplished. This also means that one must wait until at least mid-season before the rankings/seedings have any true value. The polls are fine for fun speculation and mean a lot to schools in regards to exposure, but they fail to take the NCAA selection criteria into account.

The Bracket Board vows to evaluate all teams under the NCAA selection criteria standards regardless of conference affiliation or past success.

Small disclaimer: Early in the season, bracket projections will have some BBB (Bracket Board Bias), but I will be up-front about it. Once we get into conference play, the BBB goes bye-bye-bye.

Friday, September 09, 2005


This is the new Bracket Board. Posting will commence shortly.