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Not all Selection Sundays are created equal.  2016 was amusing in more ways than one…and often for the wrong reasons.  Time to sort out the seeds, snubs, TV turnovers and leaks…

More is Less– thank you CBS for filling two hours with a half-hour worth of material.  I know how much the TNT guys love college basketball for the one month they actually cover the sport, but outside of who has the coolest three piece suit did we need extended studio shenanigans?  I could see a 90-minute show if you have more interviews with coaches and actual analysis…but yesterday’s viewers were the first losers of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Paging Daniel Ellsberg– the bracket was actually busted before CBS could complete it’s wacky analysis segments.  Someone at the NCAA or CBS accidentally released the full tournament field…and it took off on twitter.  Whoever did that, shame on you.  And thank you for allowing me to fill out my sheet instead of having to sit through another CBS studio segment.

Planting Seeds– Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Oregon are the #1’s.  In a year where the top ten has been a volatile commodities market, there’s less of a difference between the ones and twos than in normal seasons–but I thought Michigan State deserved a #1 instead of Virginia or Oregon.  I also thought that the Jayhawks should have been placed in the Midwest (Chicago being a little closer to Lawrence than Louisville) bracket…and it felt like the Big Ten was devalued:  Maryland, Purdue and Indiana each getting #5’s?  Did they count having Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois in the league that much as a dead weight?

Shocks– Syracuse (19-13, 9-9 ACC) lost five of its last six games…went winless in its conference tournament and also lost in December to Georgetown and St. John’s.  Vanderibilt (19-13, 11-7 SEC) had an RPI of 61 while losing to Mississippi State and Tennessee.  Tulsa  (20-11, 12-6 AAC) lost twice to dumpster-fire Memphis in March…the NCAA must be looking to give the Golden Hurricane a bid before coach Frank Haith repeats the magic that got Miami and Missouri into hot water (and probation).  Just like UCLA reached the Sweet Sixteen despite not meriting inclusion in the field of 68 last year, expect one of those schools to win at least two games…

Snubs– Monmouth (27-7, 17-3 MAAC) missed out despite a pre-conference schedule that included wins at UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown.  We want schools to be ambitious–yet don’t reward a school that does just that.   Perhaps a 70-year old in the committee was put off by the Hawks “creative dancing bench” (“that will show those young punks not to clown around on the court during a game”).  St. Bonaventure (22-8, 14-4 Atlantic 10) finished the regular season with a five game winning streak that included triumphs over Dayton and Saint Joseph’s…only to get bounced by Davidson in the A-10 Quarterfinals.  St. Mary’s (27-5, 15-3 WCC) and San Diego State (25-9, 16-2 MWC) dominated their leagues after posting wins over Pac-12 schools but find themselves bound for the NIT as well.

Taking the “Sunday” out of “Selection Sunday”– Was the committee even in session yesterday?  Or did they have an extra-long brunch?  Because somehow Kentucky beat Texas A&M on a neutral floor yet was seeded lower than the Aggies two hours later.  Michigan State’s placement as a #2 seemed to not take into account their Big Ten championship win.  Tulsa felt like they were simply a last-second fill-in for Memphis after the Tigers lost the AAC title game.

NIT-picking:  George Washington (23-10, 11-7 Atlantic 10) was at least one win-perhaps two- away from the NCAA’s…and the Colonials face Hofstra in the NIT First Round Wednesday.  Smith Center is a great place to watch a basketball game and metro accessible (Foggy Bottom–Orange/Silver/Blue line stop) as well.  This would be a great appetizer to Thursday’s viewing buffet.  That Virginia Tech (19-14, 10-8 ACC) is in postseason play at all is a minor miracle given the nasty nacho plate Buzz Williams inherited two years ago.  They get a chance to build on their late-season surge (a six game winning streak before the ACC Quarterfinal loss to Miami) by hosting Princeton Wednesday.

First things First– I’m excited that the First Four will be just that…and not the “first round”.  I’m still perplexed that it has to be in Dayton…meaning the winner of Holy Cross and Southern Wednesday has to fly to Spokane for a Friday game.  Why not let the schools go to the first weekend sites to begin with and play their games there?

Upset Insurance—CBS and the NCAA in no way whatsoever attempt to massage the brackets in a way to maximize TV audience interest. But somehow they have a potential Michigan-Notre Dame game in the first round if the Wolverines survive the First Four…while Texas-Texas A&M and Villanova-Temple are possible second round showdowns. Call it upset insurance…if the seeds hold you have better matchups on paper, while if the bracket breaks just right you have a more compelling storyline.

 

Maryland (25-8, 12-6 Big Ten, lost in the conference tourney semifinals)– the Terps get a #5 seed in the South and a first weekend destination of Spokane, Washington.   They’re in a bracket with South Dakota State (who doesn’t like the Terrapin/Tortoise-Jackrabbit/Hare matchup?) with the other first round game pitting Cal against Hawaii.  Just to show the committee has its eye on the second weekend as well, should Maryland advance to the Sweet Sixteen their likely opponent would be #1 seed Kansas.  Hey…didn’t coach Mark Turgeon attend that school?

Player to Watch:  that Melo Trimble has been banged this winter is no secret…the sophomore has had hamstring and back issues crop up sporadically during Big Ten play.  Over the last eight regular season games, Trimble has shot 31% from the field (after hitting 46% of his shots over the first 25 games of the season)…and his assist-to-turnover ratio in that span is a shell of its former self:  from 133/62 (2.14) over the first 25 to 36/26 (1.38) over the last eight.  Good or bad…the Terrapins fortunes offensively begin with #2.

Darkhorse Breakout Candidate:  while everyone is waiting for Diamond Stone to return to the against-Penn State version (39 points and 12 rebounds against the Nittany Lions), Robert Carter Jr. has been heating up:  over the last four games the forward is making 60% of his shots while averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds.  If he can stay out of foul trouble, the junior will provide matchup nightmares for opponents already preoccupied with Stone in the post and Trimble on the perimeter.

Road to the Penthouse: the Terps benefit from the extra day (they play Friday) off…as well as playing on the other side of the country.  Having played in the same Cancun Tournament as the Jackrabbits, they’re ready for South Dakota State and dispatch Cal in the second round.  After a week of answering Kansas questions coach Mark Turgeon notches a win over his alma mater…and then beat a turnover-prone Miami team two days later to reach the Final Four.  Houston, baby!

Road to the Outhouse: you know about the “5-12 curse”?  The Terps are confounded by 6-foot-9 freshman Mike Daum (15 points per game on 20 minutes per contest) and the big men get in foul trouble.  The Jackrabbits turn Trimble over and Rasheed Sulaimon has another 2-for-15 shooting night.  The road to the Final Four ends 2400 miles away from College Park.

 

Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC, lost in the conference tourney finals)– the Cavaliers get a #1 seed in the Midwest and a first weekend destination of Raleigh, North Carolina.  They’ll play Hampton in the First Round (the Pirates winning the MEAC for the second straight year) with Texas Tech/Butler the 8-9 matchup in their bracket.  Best news?  Tony Bennett’s team was recognized for a great season and gets their second #1 seed in three years.  Worst news?  Recent nemesis Michigan State (Spartans ended the last two UVa seasons) is the region’s #2.

Player to Watch:  Malcolm Brogdon may have shot 6 for 22 against North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game…but the senior remains their #1 offensive weapon (averaging 20 points a game this month).  While he’s yet to shoot over 50% from the field in an NCAA Tournament game (his career numbers are 19-of-59, 32%), in order for the Cavaliers to advance they need Brogdon to produce.

Darkhorse Breakout Candidate:  all season the Cavaliers have looked for that “other guy” to complement their power trio of Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes- only to have the likes of Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall and Darius Thompson remind one of Gunther at the coffee shop:  shining in some episodes, absent in others…and never seriously a Friend.  Senior center Mike Tobey has spent his entire Cavaliers career on the fringe… played anywhere from 13 to 18 minutes a game while averaging 6.8, 6.9, 6.4 and 6.8 points per game.  He’s capable of 15 points and 20 rebounds against Louisville in the season finale–but also capable of 17 points and 16 rebounds over three games at the ACC Tournament.   If the 7-footer can provide another post presence, UVa will be tough to contain.

Road to the Penthouse:  Playing in Raleigh gives them the comfort necessary to dodge first-weekend obstacles…and they exorcise their recent March demons by beating Michigan State in the Regional Finals (in Chicago, no less).  Avenging their ACC loss to North Carolina in the National Semifinals sets up a title tilt against Duke–and Grayson Allen trips over his own feet while trying to get off a last-second shot.  BANNER!

Road to the Outhouse:  After a confidence-inflating victory over Hampton, the Cavaliers are confounded by Butler’s up-tempo offense (Bulldogs rank 22nd in the nation in scoring).  Kellen Dunham sinks three after three and UVa can’t keep pace in a shootout.  North Carolina fans arriving early for their game with Providence are in attendance…and while Tar Heel fans are far too dignified to say anything derogatory, the Cavalier faithful can’t look them in the eye as they stagger out of the arena into another offseason of head-scratching.

 

VCU (24-10, 14-4 Atlantic 10, lost in conference finals)- the Rams get a #10 seed in the West and a trip to Oklahoma City where they will play Oregon State Friday.  Lurking around the corner?  Oklahoma and Player of the year candidate Buddy Heild (providing the Sooners beat Cal State Bakersfield).  From what I understand the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City happen to be located in the same state.

Player to Watch:  Melvin Johnson leads the Rams in scoring, but JeQuan Lewis initiates play on both sides of the floor…running the offense (4.8 assists per game ranked 4th in the A-10) while spearheading the defense that finished 9th in Division I in steals per game.  The junior catalyst is also the team’s best three-point shooter (41% from outside the arc).

Darkhorse Breakout Candidate:  Graduate transfer Korey Billbury came to VCU after three seasons at Oral Roberts.  This winter the guard is second on the Rams in scoring and rebounding while shooting over 40% from three point range…and scored a team-high 19 points against St. Joe’s in the A-10 Finals.  Will this senior shine in March?

Road to the Penthouse:  the Rams upset an Oregon State team that’s reaching the tournament for the first time since Gary Payton was a student in 1990…before their trademark havoc turns Oklahoma inside-out.  Buddy Hield can’t get untracked and the Rams advance to play Texas and Shaka Smart in the Sweet Sixteen.  Smart does chest-bumps with both teams during pre-game introductions.

Road to the Outhouse:  Oregon State behind Gary Payton II (son of you know who) survives the Rams havoc.  By the way, the Beavers also boast high flying Stephen Thompson Jr. (son of the Syracuse guard).  After further investigation, Jarmal Reid is not JR Reid’s son–nor is assistant coach Kerry Rupp the child of the late HOF coach Adolph Rupp, but one had to check.  Leading scorer Melvin Johnson’s two game slump (14 points on 5-13 shooting and 2-9 from three point range) continues…and VCU gets bounced by the Beavers.

Portions also appearing on WTOP.COM.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State aren’t supposed to be this good.  The two Magnolia state schools aren’t supposed to beat Alabama or Texas A&M…these two wallflowers of the SEC West were supposed to be exhibits A & B to refute anyone who declared that the Southeastern Conference wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Both schools have had spotty history over the years and although each has had its moments– the fact that both are unbeaten and tied for the #3 spot in this week’s Associated Press Poll.  Both are coming off signature Moving Month wins…the Rebels rallying past then-#3 Alabama 23-17 and the Bulldogs torching then-#6 Texas A&M 48-31.  This isn’t like Joey becoming the star of “Friends”–it’s like Gunther stealing Rachel away from Ross.  Unbeaten in October– or even September– isn’t something I associate with either school.  When I think of the University of Mississippi I think about an overmatched Archie or Eli Manning, “The Help” and James Meredith.  When I think of Mississippi State I think about Jackie Sherrill castrating a bull, the 1980 Bulldogs denying Alabama a chance to three-peat, and MSU being looked down on by the Ole Miss community (the two schools’ relationship reminiscent of North Carolina and NC State).  Both teams have struggled in the shadows of an SEC West that’s dominated the college football landscape recently– while Ole Miss has just one 10-win season since Hall of Fame coach Johnny Vaught’s last game in 1973, Mississippi State has one double-digit victory campaign since World War II.  For years teams in the SEC East would hope to get the “double-Mississippi” when getting their crossover division schedules as opposed to the Alabama-Auburn or Bama-LSU double-doozy.  It’s fitting these two schools emerge from the rubble on an upset-filled weekend (five of the top ten schools losing)…and lets allow the Magnolia state to enjoy this early October bloom while it lasts.  You see, Mississippi State visits #2 Auburn while Ole Miss travels to #14 Texas A&M.  Where’s Jackie Sherrill and the vet when you need them?

 

Alma Mater Update– there isn’t enough wings and bleu cheese to negate the empty feeling of Friday night’s 28-6 loss to Louisville.  It reminded me of the 2007 loss at home to Washington where I realized that maybe the light at the end of the tunnel for Greg Robinson was an oncoming train.  Lack of speed in the secondary.  Lack of talent at the skill positions.  Mismanagement in critical situations.  Adding injury to insult, quarterback Terrel Hunt is out 4-6 weeks with a broken fibula.  Coach Scott Shafer (gives a great press conference) responds by stripping Offensive Coordinator George McDonald of his playcalling duties heading into Saturday’s showdown with #1 Florida State.  Remember, this is a team that switched defenses to a 3-4 for their game with Georgia Tech and lost 56-0.  Another reason for me to dislike the Bills– Doug Marrone should be coaching this team right now.  Instead a seemingly unprepared administration had to fill the head coaching job with a Scott Shafer (gives a great press conference) who may have been promoted one level above his skill set.  A coaching hire misfire at a private school in the northeast?  Deadly.  When does basketball begin again?

 

Maryland had its Big Ten rude awakening with a 52-24 loss to #20 Ohio State.  Sloopy was doing a lot more than hanging on:  the Buckeyes served a reminder to the Terps that while they may be playing in OSU’s conference–they’re not in the Bucks’ league.  So is a big chunk of the Big Ten.  Terrapin Triumphs-– Cole Farrand notched 17 tackles while Andre Monroe added a pair of sacks…Caleb Rowe provided  spark off the bench by throwing for 173 yards and a touchdown in the second half.  Terrapin Troubles– Rowe threw 3 interceptions while CJ Brown tossed another pick in the first half… the defense allowed over 5 yards a carry and gave up touchdowns on the Buckeyes first two possessions to set the tone.  Next: October 18th against Iowa.

 

Virginia Tech wasted no time separating itself from North Carolina…taking a 24-3 halftime lead en route to a 34-17 thumping of the Tar Heels.  Granted, UNC is rebuilding (allowing 42 points a game) but a road conference win is a nice way to start Moving Month.  Hokie Highlights– the defense held the Tar Heels to 2 for 13 on third down-and forced 3 key turnovers that led to 21 points…Ken Ekanem notched 3 of the team’s 5 sacks…special teams held ballyhooed punt returner Ryan Switzer to 7 total yards on 6 returns.  BEAMER BALL!  Hokie Humblings– minimal happy returns as VT averaged 13.5 yards per kickoff return and -2.5 yards per punt return… the offensive line allowed 3 sacks… Michael Brewer was intercepted again.  Next:  Thursday October 16th vs Pitt.

 

Virginia held on for dear life in the second half…almost wasting a 21-point lead in their 24-19 win at Pitt. There’s a lot of football to be played, but UVa is one of 3 ACC teams that have unbeaten conference records.  Wake up whenever you want, Cavs faithful.  Cavalier Congrats– Kevin Parks rushed for 169 yards and a TD…Anthony Harris notched 15 tackles and a sack… Max Valles’ interception was the team’s 19th of the season.  Cavalier Concerns– six second half drives netted just 87 yards on 26 plays from scrimmage…  Matt Johns reminded fans why he was unable to take the starting job away from Greyson Lambert (9-16 passing for 93 yards, a TD and an INT).  Next:  October 18th at Duke.

 

Navy saw its season continue to go south with a 30-21 defeat at Air Force.  While the Commander in Chief’s Trophy not out of reach (Navy needs to beat Army after the Black Knights beat Air Force), a 2-4 record means there’s minimal margin for error as the upcoming slate includes a date with #6 Notre Dame and a trip to Sun Belt Conference leading Georgia Southern.  Midshipmen Medals– Chris Swain rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown…the defense held the Falcons to 6-15 on third down.  Midshipmen Miscues– the offense went 3 & out on three of its first four second half possessions… two turnovers in Air Force territory and a missed field goal took points off the scoreboard… the defense allowed 3 TD passes by Kale Pearson.  Next:  Saturday vs VMI.

For two decades this was the “new-money” rivalry in college football.  While Miami-Florida State didn’t hold the “tradition” of Michigan-Ohio State or Auburn-Alabama… this Sunshine State Showdown routinely produced more top ten matchups and eventual national champions (7 over a 20 year span).  From 1983 to 2003, one of these two schools entered New Year’s Day in the national title conversation 15 times–so it was only assumed that when Miami joined the ACC it would take the rivalry to the next level.  Unfortunately for Hurricane and Seminole fans, that level was several steps down from the rarefied air of the 80’s and 90’s.  The league separated the two schools division-wise so they could meet in the ACC Title game– and it hasn’t happened once.  The Canes fell on hard times under Larry Coker and Randy Shannon…and then almost did hard time with the NCAA.  The Noles declined like any great empire does during the final years of a great regime–to the point where Bobby Bowden felt like the 10th season of Friends.  And it didn’t help that the game’s been moved all over the calendar:  if the ACC wanted to pump up this rivalry they should move it to Columbus Day weekend and keep it there.  But until the league gets it right–for at least one November night college football gets to turn back the clock to “wide right”.

Alma Mater Update– after one week off the Orange prepare for their “Closing Month”– needing three wins to lock up bowl eligibility.  In the “stats were built to support any theory” category– SU won’t play a team with a worse record in November, but meet just one school with a winning ACC record in that stretch.  They start with a Wake Forest team that seems to be hitting its stride after a September loss to Louisiana-Monroe (almost upsetting Miami last weekend)…and after a 56-0 thumping two weeks ago by Georgia Tech one wonders what sort of mindset this team will have.  One feels we’ll need extra blue cheese with the wings at Sign of the Whale.

Virginia Tech at Boston College– can the Hokies erase the sting of a home loss to Duke?  They begin Closing Month with a duel against a former Big East brother…last year a 2-10 Eagles team took Tech into overtime before coming up short.  BC boasts the ACC’s leading rusher in Andre Williams, but the Hokies have the stingiest defense against the run in the conference (under 100 yards per game…and under 3 yards a carry).  The big question is– how will Logan Thomas bounce back from tossing four interceptions against the Blue Devils?  Hokies hang on, 19-17.

Virginia vs #9 Clemson– the Cavaliers had a three game homestand to turn their season around…instead they posted a come from ahead loss to Duke and an afternoon of missed opportunities against Georgia Tech.  Instead of bringing a .500 mark into November with postseason possibilities at least in the conversation, coach Mike London’s team is facing bowl elimination three days after Halloween.  And the ninth ranked Tigers bring quite a bit to the table with Tajh Boyd coming off a 300+ yard passing effort against Maryland…and Sammy Watkins posting 14 catches last Saturday.  While this season has been tough to swallow for the UVa faithful, Kippy and Buffy break out the easy to enjoy Chateau O’Brien Malbec:a medium-bodied wine with complex aromas of plum and fig, a velvety soft texture, and remarkable fruit flavor“–or as other expert tasting notes read: “Big Boat”.  Kippy and Buffy break out salmon puffs this week– and for those joining them, that’s not guacamole–it’s wasabi (I learned the hard way).  Cavaliers come up short, 42-17.

Navy loses to Notre Dame on NBC, Georgetown slips to Lafayette, Towson defeats Delaware, Richmond rips Albany, James Madison tops Villanova, William & Mary loses to New Hampshire.

Last Week: 5-3.

Overall: 50-13.