Jim Boeheim's Orange won the national championship the last time the tournament came to New Orleans...can they do it again?

68 teams have been selected, and sportswriters will now begin wondering what is wrong with the selection committee’s minds. But minutes after all the teams were picked, one of the least productive times of the year began: the month that is known as March Madness. But before we start partying in New Orleans, let’s take a look at the best and worst decisions of Jeff Hathaway and his Selection Committee for this year. It’s time for the third annual Selection Sunday Awards!

The Miracle on Hardwood Award: This award goes to the 16 seed who has the best chance of, for the first time in 108 tries, defeating a top seed in the tournament. Just like the 1980 USA hockey team, this team has the potential to be the first Miracle on Hardwood.

This award goes to: Long Island (vs. Michigan State).

I like Long Island because while they might lose to the big-name schools and the really good small tournament teams (they lost to Penn State and fellow tournament-goers Norfolk State and Iona…more on the Gaels later), but they proved they can hang with them too, beating tournament competitors Vermont and slashing through their conference tournament. The other 16 seeds will be either incredibly tired (in the case of the play-in teams) or not talented enough to hang with their #1 (in the case of UNC Asheville against Syracuse).

Michigan State looked kind of iffy all day in their Big Ten championship game against Ohio State, but finally pulled it out in the end. They started out the season with two tough losses (one on an airplane carrier), and suffered some tough losses near the end, but they are starting to look strong when it’s needed most. This may be one of the closest 16-1 games ever, especially if Draymond Green can’t come up with the big buckets like he did in Indianapolis.

The Dentist’s Chair Award: This award goes to the top seed who has the toughest road to New Orleans, assuming all games are played “chalk,” meaning all the higher seeds win their games. Getting to the Final Four for this team will be like a trip to the dentist: long and painful.

This award goes to: Michigan State.

If everything plays as planned, the Spartans will start out with a Memphis team that is getting hot at just the right time winning their last seven, including three in the Conference-USA tournament. They’ll then face a surprising Louisville team that had a shocking run through the Big East tournament, and cap that off with second-seeded Missouri, who has proven they can run with the big boys, in the Elite 8. While this does look like a hard row for the Spartans to hoe, it’s certainly not impossible. However, with a road full of trap games, the Spartans better not get complacent at the wrong time, or they’ll be making the long trip back to East Lansing, trophy-less.

The Concorde Award: This award goes to the top-seeded team who has the easiest road to the Final Four. Like the supersonic jet of the same name, the road to the Big Easy will be smooth sailing for this team. They won’t face many challenges on their road to the national championship, and possibly could not be challenged until they get to the Final Four.

This award goes to: Kentucky.

No question, the Wildcats have the easiest road to the Superdome. They start with an already tired play-in team in either Mississippi Valley State or an incredibly weak Western Kentucky team that backed into the tournament. Then, if everything goes chalk, they’ll play Iowa State (who should have been slightly lower–maybe a 10 or 11 seed), Indiana, who is playing without one of their big stars in Verdell Jones III (torn ACL), and then a Duke team that really isn’t playing up to their #2 seed. With the talent on that team, led by Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, there is no reason why Kentucky shouldn’t breeze through the South bracket.

Messin’ With Sasquatch Award (formerly House of Cards Award): This award goes to the high seeded team that’s setting themselves up for a big fall. Just like the humans in the Jack Link’s beef jerky commercials, they may feel comfortable with their high seed, but one false move and they could wind up getting punted like a football.

This award goes to: #2 Missouri.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Tigers as a #2 seed, but they had the unfortunate luck to be placed in the West bracket. They could be facing a Murray State team that will be incredibly dangerous, a Louisville team that’s shocking a lot of people right now, and quite a few teams that have the capacity to be this tournament’s Cinderella. Top that all off with a possible meeting with a possible meeting with a Michigan State team that’s heating up as they enter the tournament, and that’s a pretty tough road for the Tigers. I don’t see them losing right away, but it could be coming earlier than anyone suspected.

One Shining Moment Award: This award, named after the song that officially ends the tournament, goes to the first round game that embodies the true meaning of that song. This is the one shining moment of the tournament, where there could be an exciting finish, there could be a nail-biting few moments…but all in all, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, matchup of the first round.

The award goes to: #8 Creighton vs. #9 Alabama.

The Crimson Tide kind of flew under the radar this year, racking up a mediocre 21-11 record and not really shocking any committee members, but numbers can be deceiving. They were playing in an incredibly strong SEC that included two big games against top-ranked Kentucky. To top it all off, all but three of their losses were to teams that made it into the tournament themselves. Don’t underestimate the Tide, because they might prove to be a formidable Cinderella team down the road, and there is the potential for any game against Alabama to be a trap game. If JayMychal Green gets hot at the right time, watch out.

On the other hand, Creighton has proven before that, given the right conditions, they can be just as dangerous as the Crimson Tide. They have had two big wins this year over teams seeded higher than them (6-seed San Diego State and splitting a series with 5-seed Wichita State), and can only be designated as one of the most dangerous teams in this tournament. When these two very dangerous teams get together in just a few days, there will be a dogfight, with this game coming right down to the final seconds; certainly, this will be one of the shining moments of the tournament.

Glass Slipper Award: This award goes to a team that might fly under the radar of most bracketologists, and, like VCU and Butler last year, make a surprising run towards the Final Four. This team has the potential to pull off some really huge upsets in the tournament.

This award goes to: #12 Harvard.

To put it simply, the Crimson are awesome this year! Their 26-4 record, despite the fact that it was in the relatively weak Ivy League, deserved higher than a 12-seed, but that’s a point that’s up for argument. They do have a very good win against ACC champion Florida State. I’m certainly looking forward to what I’m calling their “Battle of the Brains” in the first round against Vanderbilt. Their only losses have been against (at the time) highly-ranked UConn and a couple of top teams in their league and the pretty-good Patriot League (Fordham). If they get on a good run, especially starting against the SEC tournament champions, Harvard could be, surprisingly, a pretty tough out this year.

Snake in the Grass Award: Most of my readers might remember this from when I predicted every single game in the tournament in the blog’s infancy. This award goes to the team that, for all intents and purposes, should not be in the tournament, but has wormed its way into the tournament somehow (by sheer luck, most likely).

This award goes to: #14-A Iona.

It was a big shock to everyone when the Gaels were called to the tournament as a play-in team for the #14 seed in the West regional. I am equally shocked. While they did win the MAAC regular-season title, they had some embarrassing losses along the way, including a humiliating loss to Fairfield in their conference tournament. They certainly aren’t a team that looks like championship material, and it’ll be a miracle if they even get out of Dayton. At any rate, good luck, Iona…you’re going to need it.

Biggest Snub: This award goes to the team that should have made the tournament, but were passed over for some reason or another (not enough quality wins, bad RPI, the Committee had a brain fart…take your pick). This team certainly was good enough to make the postseason, but fell just short, but could certainly be a contender in any bracket.

This award goes to: the Drexel Dragons.

Not only did they win the CAA regular season championship, they were a Kentucky-esque 13-0 at home, and also had won 19 games in a row at one point. They also have a pretty high-quality win against VCU, a team that was chosen over the Dragons, and had a down-to-the-wire loss to those same Rams in the CAA tournament. Putting a mediocre Iona team in over them is an absolute travesty. This was a major mistake by the selection committee, and it’s one that will haunt Drexel through the long, long postseason.

Worst Seeding: This award goes to the seeding decision that will draw the most ire of all of them. This is the seeding that will have bracketologists scratching their heads and analysts screaming for the committee’s ouster.

This award goes to: #7 Florida.

When the Gators were called into the tournament, I thought to myself: “What is the committee smoking, putting them that high?” Looking at their schedule, I can’t see why they were seeded this high. They lost five of their last eight games to end the season (including a humiliating 14-point loss to bottom-of-the-barrel Georgia), and on top of that, lost twice to Kentucky by a combined 18 points in their last three games before the tournament. Florida shouldn’t even be in the tournament, much less be such a high seed. Luckily, with a matchup against Virginia, their weaknesses will be exposed, and they’ll be bounced rather quickly.

Best Seeding: This goes to the best seeding decision by the committee; one they should be sincerely proud of. This is a seed that is well-deserved, and one that the analysts should be able to accept without much of a problem.

This award goes to: #2 Kansas.

This was, without a doubt, the best place to put the Jayhawks. I felt they weren’t quite strong enough for a 1-seed, but they were strong enough to keep a #2 seed without any problems. With a surprisingly strong Big 12 and non-conference schedule (the crown jewel of that being a close 10-point loss against Kentucky early in the season), I felt #2 was perfect. The #1’s were too strong, and the #3’s were not exactly up to par with the Jayhawks. I think they make a statement up to the Elite 8, then they, unfortunately, get bounced by a simply stronger North Carolina team.

And now, for my national championship pick:

Syracuse over Kentucky, 75-73 in overtime.

This is the logical and ideal choice for the national championship game. These two teams are, without a doubt, the two best teams in the nation, and it will certainly show in New Orleans. In the end, while the Orange did have some stumbling blocks to fix, they’ll rise above it and prove why the Big East is one of the best conferences in the nation, ironically enough, in their final season there (they’ll move to the ACC next year).

So, now that all the awards have been handed out, all that’s left to do is go to Dayton and wait for the First Four games. Then, March Madness will truly begin. Enjoy the tournament!

Just as quickly as Joe Paterno left the locker room after his last game at Penn State, Happy Valley suddenly became not so happy.

Now that he’s left this Earth, there’s no doubt it will become downright despondent.

Living in Upstate New York, you never really heard about Penn State unless they were playing Syracuse or Buffalo. But if you were sitting there watching the game, you knew you could sit there and say, “Here is a molder of young minds; one of the last of a dying breed…a man who played and coached the game of football because he loved the game, not because it offered the most money.”

In this age where coaches are exchanged like baseball cards, it’s hard to find one who stays with a team any more than ten years. This man stuck around with the team for 61 years. He even turned down offers from almost every successful pro football team in the NFL without batting an eye. Such loyalty in this day and age is incredibly rare.

Whether you loved him or loathed him, you cannot say that Paterno did not have integrity. Even in the wake of scandal, the man carried himself with dignity. No scathing news report, nor tabloid, nor vulture-like reporters would bring this man down. Like his quarterbacking days at Brown, he could not and would not be brought down by such things. If you can’t even bring down the man by running a Sherman Tank of a man at him (twice, no less), how do you expect reporters, armed with only cameras and notepads, to even slow him down?

He would speak of things that, up until that point, were only spoken in whispers. He was a firm advocate of the playoff system before the BCS was even an idea in some person’s brain. He spoke of an emphasis on academics over athletics, and promoted it even further with his “Grand Experiment.” He even advocated the discontinuation of face masks. Well, maybe that wasn’t such a hot idea, but his reasoning behind it was sound:  he thought it would reduce concussions, a problem now becoming more and more prominent. Who knows? It may have worked; Paterno was nothing if not a smart, well-educated person.

Above all that, Joe Paterno was a man whose accomplishments on and off the field most likely will not be equaled, at least in my time and quite possibly some time after. There is no man, Democrat, Republican or indifferent, who can’t say that he wasn’t a great American and a good father, coach and friend right up to the end. One would hope that that’s what he’s remembered for above all else.

Words can only say so much about a man who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame even before his career was over, but his accomplishments will ring out through the ages as, quite possibly, one of the best coaches ever to put on the whistle.

Rest in peace, JoePa. Words can’t even begin to describe how great a coach, friend and man you were, but one thing is for sure…Happy Valley just won’t be as happy without you.

Can Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu stop the Crimson Tide again?

It has been three weeks since these two teams met each other, in what was dubbed the “Game of the Century.” Now, two months later, we’re right back to where we started: LSU and Alabama, but this time for a bigger prize: the national championship. Who will come out on top this time? Swami McMullen dusts off his crystal ball to see who comes out the victor in Round Two of the “Game of the Century.” Who will hoist the crystal football this time in this matchup of perennial national champions? Read on, dear reader, read on…

Why the Fighting Tigers Will Win:

Don’t Mess With The Honey Badger: Sophomore Tyrann Mathieu, also known as the Honey Badger, has been a defnsive force to be reckoned with for LSU this year, keeping passing attacks in the always-tough SEC down to a bare minimum. He’ll definitely be put on the Crimson Tide’s best receiver (most likely senior wide receiver Marquis Maze), leaving quarterback A.J. McCarron with few options in the passing game. Certainly, the running game of Alabama can’t carry the whole Alabama offense, even if they do get almost 220 yards per game (good enough for 14th in the nation). Mathieu is also an effective punt returner, racking up over 400 yards and the teams only two punt returns for touchdowns. If the Honey Badger is able to get a couple of key stops and possibly break a couple punts for long gains , he may be able to put the Tide away and hoist the Coaches’ Trophy for LSU for the third time.

In Their Own Backyard: This year’s National Championship game is in the New Orleans Superdome, which is only 80 miles from LSU’s hometown of Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, Alabama has to go go almost 300 miles to get to the Superdome. This will most certainly put some bus lag on the backs of the Tide. While this may be shaken off within a quarter, that may be too much to give the Tigers’ offense, who have scored almost 39 points per game. Add to that the thousands of fans from Baton Rouge who will most likely be there, and the Tide already have long odds against them before they even walk out of the tunnel. If the Tigers can ride that wave of support, they should be able to coast to an easy victory.

Up In The Air: While Alabama only gives up about 116 passing yards per game, they have a tall task indeed in containing Tigers’ quarterback Jarrett Lee and the LSU receiving corps. While their passing attack is only 105th in the Nation (a paltry 160 yards per game), they do have a couple of deep attacks in wide receivers Ruben Randle and Odell Beckham, who have over 1,300 yards and ten of the team’s 56 offensive touchdowns between them (the rest have no more than 190 yards and four touchdowns). The matchup between the unstoppable force that is Randle and Beckham, along with the rest of the receiving corps, and the immovable object that is a stifling Alabama pass defense. If either of them can break out of that defense, they might be in for big nights.

Why the Crimson Tide Will Win:

Sweet Revenge?: The last time these two teams met, neither team could score a touchdown, and the Tide lost in a 9-6 heartbreaker. They’ll be looking for redemption for their seniors, including Maze, who has been a force in the Tide’s receiving corps. Even though Alabama has a national championship (from two years ago), what better way for the Tide’s 23 graduating seniors to go out than to win their second championship in three years in front of their bitter rivals in their own backyard?

Richardson Runs Wild: Junior running back Trent Richardson has been running wild over defenses all season, racking up almost 1,600 yards, along with 20 touchdowns this season, including a 203-yard performance in their win over Auburn. He might be a point of concern for the Tigers, because if he breaks through the line, he is a threat to go all the way. If LSU’s defense isn’t at the top of their game, it could be a big day for Richardson, and a long one for coach Les Miles. The Tide rack up over 200 yards per game (good enough for 14th in the nation). He can ill afford a day like their last outing against the Fighting Tigers (23 carries, 89 yards) if the Tide want to win. I think if Richardson can double his production from the early-November matchup, the Crimson Tide should be able to take home the National Championship.

All Tired Out: LSU has had a rough three weeks before earning their national championship bid, their only respite being a 52-3 pounding over cellar-dwellers Ole Miss and a 42-9 beating over 7-5 Western Kentucky the weeks after their win to the Crimson Tide. While neither game (against Arkansas and Georgia in the SEC Championship) was as even a matchup as Alabama, it still had to have tired out the Tigers quite a bit. Alabama, however, has had an easier road to New Orleans after their defeat in Baton Rouge, knocking of Georgia Southern and Auburn. Therefore, the Tide might be a little bit fresher.

There are two edges to this sword, however. Alabama hasn’t played against another opponent since the end of November, and might have a little rust to start out with. However, they should be able to shake off that rust and still be able to keep pace with the Tigers.

Prediction: The Crimson Tide gain sweet redemption, but in another squeaker, 38-35. Even though they lost in November, they must have learned something and improved since then. Mathieu can’t possibly contain the entire Crimson Tide offense, and Richarson could run wild against a defense that gives up almost 11 points per game. While that is good enough for second in the nation, it’s not enough to beat Alabama, who gives up less than 9 points per game. That will most likely be the difference in this matchup between these two evenly matched teams.

There you have it: in this battle of the jungle, the elephant takes out the tiger. Who will hoist the crystal football? Will the Honey Badger take a big bite out of the Alabama offense, or will Richardson run roughshod over the Tigers? We’ll just have to watch to find out!

Will Tim Thomas and the Bruins topple the President's Cup-winning Canucks?

After months of hits, fights and complaining about Gary Bettman’s total incompetence, we are finally down to our final two teams. The Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins will spend the next month flying over 15,000 miles to fight for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Who will win their first Cup in a good long while (the Bruins have waited 21 years, the Canucks have waited 17 years), and who will have to wait one more year to get their turn? Read on, dear hockey fan, read on…

Why The Bruins Will Win:

Youth over Experience: The Bruins have nine rookies on their roster at the moment, while the Canucks only have five. While this may be a disadvantage to some teams, this might actually work in the Bruins’ favor in this series. They’ll probably have the energy to skate with the Canucks for seven games if it comes to that, and might actually be able to tire them out by the end. If the veterans falter in any way, I do believe the rookies will be able to pick up the slack and take the Bruins the rest of the way to the Cup.

Master Motivator: When I look at the two coaches competing in this year’s series, I have to give the edge to Claude Julien of the Bruins. Yes, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has captained the Canucks to one of their best seasons ever, but ever since their seven-game shootout with the Blackhawks, the Canucks have just been good altogether. Julien has had to motivate his Bruins to keep going through two-seven game series and another four-game series. I have to applaud the kind of man who can steer his team through that kind of aversity consistently throughout a playoff run. He’ll definitely have his team motivated and ready to go throughout this series. Julien has certainly been the unsung hero of these playoffs, and I hope his bosses give him a long, contract extension for his run here.

Experience over Youth: Right winger Mark Recchi has been in the league 22 years, but is still producing like he’s only been in five years. His stats may be somewhere in the middle of the road, but he always plays each shift like it is the last shift of the Stanley Cup finals. He’s getting up there in age, so this might be his last chance to win another one. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, the Canucks’ younger players might skate circles around him if he should falter in any way, and that might be the end of the Bruins. However, the motivation to win that final Cup could be enough to give Recchi newfound energy to give the Canucks a run for their money.

Why the Canucks Will Win:

The Wonder Twins: Without a doubt, twin terrors Henrik and Daniel Sedin are two of the best players in the NHL. In the playoffs, they have 37 of the team’s 140 points combined (no one else has more than 18), one-fifth of the teams 50 goals combined (no one else has more than seven) and own the last two Art Ross Trophies. Simply put, if the Bruins can’t contain the Sedin twins, they won’t even win a game in this series, much less win the Cup. It’ll definitely put the pressure on the Bruins to contain them, and to be honest, I don’t think they have the firepower to do it.

Goalie Battle: This could be a low scoring battle, as two Vezina Trophy finalists in Roberto Luongo and 2008-09 winner Tim Thomas face off in this battle. I have to give the edge to Luongo in this one, because he has gotten progressively better over the Canucks’ three playoff series. Thomas has had to go all 18 games for the Bruins, while Luongo has had some rest. His backup, Cory Schneider, has had some playoff experience, while Tuukka Rask and the rest of the Bruins’ backup goalies haven’t played any games this season. The Bruins can’t depend on an already tired Thomas to carry them all the way, but considering the alternative, they might have to, and might get ripped apart for it.

No Rest for the Weary: The Canucks are definitely rested and ready to go for this series. They’ve had the luxury of three extra days to rest and study their opponents, and there is no doubt that is a huge advantage in this series. Also, because the Canucks will be hosting the first two games of the series at home, they will not have to make the more than 3,000-mile trip to Boston; instead, it will be the other way around, and that is another huge advantage. The Bruins will be jet-lagged and weary, and that makes for a long, long trip to a 22nd year without a Stanley Cup. The Canucks have the rest and the home-ice advantage, which will make that 17-year wait end in a sweet celebration north of the border.

Prediction: Canucks end a 17-year wait in 5 games. The Bruins can’t control the Sedin twins, they’re worn out from their two seven-game series (the Canadiens in the first round and the Lightning in the conference final), and overall, I do believe that the Canucks are the superior team. Goaltending will definitely be a factor in this series, and the Canucks definitely have the edge in that sense. Expect a low-scoring, high-octane series that will have a definite deserving winner this year.

So there you have it…Lord Stanley’s cup finally comes back to Canada after 18 years in American hands. Will this be a high-octane series, filled with lots of great games? Will it be a physical series, filled with lots of hits and fights? Will Gary Bettman somehow find a new way to embarrass himself amidst a shower of boos? You’ll just have to watch the Stanley Cup Final to find out!

Nolan Smith and Duke are a #1 seed, but do they win any awards?

The 68 teams have been selected for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and the analysts have already begun questioning the sanity of the Selection Committee. From now until the first jump ball is thrown, the sports world will be hovering over brackets and overanalyzing them until they’re sick of looking at them. But before we start looking towards Houston and the Final Four, we take a look at the best and worst of the selections. That’s right, it’s time for the Second Annual Selection Sunday Awards! Let’s not delay any longer and hand out the first award…

The Miracle on Hardwood Award: This award goes to the 16 seed who has the best chance of, for the first time in the history of the tournament, defeating a top seed in the tournament. Just like the 1980 USA hockey team, this team will make you believe in miracles.

The award goes to: Boston University (vs. Kansas).

Unfortunately, this award goes to the Terriers by default. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think any other team has the capabilities to knock off any of the top seeds, and even Boston University doesn’t look good to knock off the Jayhawks.  In their two games against ranked opponents (#6 Villanova and #10 Kentucky) this year, they lost by 16 and 34, respectively. They barely made the tournament as it was, needing a nail-biting America East Championship game against Stony Brook to even get there. If they pull off the most miraculous victory in sports history, it will go down as the biggest upset or the biggest collapse in the history of the tournament.

The Dentist’s Chair Award: This award goes to the top seed who has the toughest road to Houston, assuming all games are played “chalk,” meaning all the higher seeds win their games. Getting to the Final Four for this team will be like a trip to the dentist: long and painful.

This award goes to: Ohio State.

The overall number-one seed has a tough road to Houston, and that’s to be expected. Obviously, they’re all but assured to win their first round matchup, but then, if it goes chalk, they’ll have to play George Mason, who are always a threat to pull off a big upset. Then, they’d be up against a pretty powerful Kentucky team, followed by a North Carolina team who can surprise some people in the Elite Eight. The top-ranked Buckeyes are a pretty powerful team, but all the batterings they will take will probably torpedo their chances to get to the Final Four.

The Concorde Award: This award goes to the top-seeded team who has the easiest road to the Final Four. Like the supersonic jet of the same name,  the road to Houston will be smooth sailing for this team. They won’t face many challenges on their road to the national championship, and possibly could not be challenged until they get to the Final Four.

This award goes to: Duke.

It’s not going to be as easy as all that for the Blue Devils. However,  it does seem like if it all plays chalk, the only concievable challenge for the Blue Devils would be second-seeded San Diego State, and that wouldn’t be until the Elite Eight. Duke, if the bracket goes chalk, would play Michigan in the second round, followed by number-four seed Texas, who might pose a slight problem, but not much of one. The Blue Devils should have a pretty easy run to Houston, if they don’t get too complacent with their smooth road.

Messin’ With Sasquatch Award (formerly House of Cards Award): This award goes to the high seeded team that’s setting themselves up for a big fall. Just like the humans in the Jack Link’s commercials, they may feel comfortable with their high seed, but one false move and they could wind up getting punted like a football.

This award goes to: #2 Florida.

Yes, the Gators did make the SEC finals, losing to a very tough Kentucky team. However, I don’t really think they’re a very strong #2 seed. They got blown away by the Wildcats, and have had very tough times with ranked teams in general this year (going 4-2, but had to earn those victories). They also lost some games that they should have won (such as a fairly bad loss to Jacksonville), and that really doesn’t look good on a number-two seed’s resume. They’ll make it past the first round, but past that, it does look a little spotty, and they should be primed to defend against the upset.

One Shining Moment Award: This award, named after the song that officially ends the tournament, goes to the first round game that embodies the true meaning of that song. This is the one shining moment of the tournament, where there could be an exciting finish, there could be a nail-biting few moments…but all in all, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, matchup of the first round.

This award goes to: Richmond/Vanderbilt.

I like this game for this award because, while Vanderbilt did fall short of the SEC title (losing in the semi-finals), they are a very tough team. They have gone only .500 (four out of eight) against ranked teams, but they have played tough, losing to those teams by no more than ten points. When the lights are on bright, I do think the Commodores will step up and put on a show for the fans.

Richmond, the Atlantic-10 champions, are extremely tough as well. Against ranked teams, they have beaten some pretty big competition (beating Purdue, who got seeded third, and splitting two games with Temple, who also were seeded higher). They have proven that they can run with the big boys, and Vanderbilt has too. When these two get together  in Denver, sparks are sure to fly, and you can be sure you’re going to see one exciting game.

George Mason Award: This award goes to a team that might fly under the radar of most bracketologists, and, like the Patriots of recent history, make a surprising run towards the Final Four. This team has the potential to pull off some really huge upsets in the tournament.

This award goes to: Old Dominion.

Right off the bat, they have to face last year’s National runner-up, Butler. That has the potential to be a huge game in and of itself. Right after that, if they make it, they’ll face top-seeded Pittsburgh. While they have lost both of their games against ranked opponents (Georgetown and Missouri), they played both teams very tough, losing by only two and three, respectively. All the teams in the Southeastern bracket should be on the lookout for the Monarchs, because they will be one team that might fly under the radar.

Snake in the Grass Award: Most of my readers might remember this from when I predicted every single game in the tournament in the blog’s infancy. This award goes to the team that, for all intents and purposes, should not be in the tournament, but has wormed its way into the tournament somehow (by sheer luck, most likely).

This award goes to: USC.

What was the selection committee thinking? To even put them into the tournament flies in the face of parity. First off, they are only five games above .500 (19-14). Second, they have two, count them, two, quality wins (against Texas and Tennessee, both in December). The rest is just a mess. Third, there were about five other teams much more deserving than USC (Virginia Tech or Alabama, anyone?), and to deny them and put the Trojans in is just a big, big mistake on the Committee’s part. Expect a one-and-done from them, because they don’t deserve to be here…not at all.

Biggest Snub: This award goes to the team that should have made the tournament, but were passed over for some reason or another (not enough quality wins, bad RPI, the Committee had a brain fart…take your pick). This team certainly was good enough to make the postseason, but fell just short, but could certainly be a contender in any bracket.

This award goes to: Alabama.

The Crimson Tide beat Georgia (a team that finished fourth in the SEC East and is seeded tenth in the tournament) twice (once in the regular season finale and once in the SEC tournament), but yet, that apparently wasnt good enough for the committee. Not a single SEC West team made the tournament, and Alabama finished with an identical overall record to the Bulldogs (and a better conference record, 12-4 to Georgia’s 9-7). It’s a travesty that the Crimson Tide didn’t get in, while USC did (see above). I think the committee will immediately regret this decision (apologies to Anchorman) and be kicking themselves as Alabama (hopefully) dominates in the NIT.

Worst Seeding: This award goes to the seeding decision that will draw the most ire of all of them. This is the seeding that will have bracketologists scratching their heads and analysts screaming for the committee’s ouster.

This award goes to: USC even being seeded in this tournament.

For all the reasons above, and concievably even more, this was the absolute worst decision the committee has ever made, bar none. The Trojans have absolutely no business being in this tournament, and the worst part of it is that they shoved out some other, more deserving, team to be there. Its totally unfair to the teams that had to work really hard to stay afloat, to have USC just sneak in and take it all away.

Best Seeding: This goes to the best seeding decision by the committee; one they should be sincerely proud of. This is a seed that is well-deserved, and one that the analysts should be able to accept without much of a problem.

This award goes to: #2 Notre Dame.

To be perfectly honest, I never really saw Notre Dame as a top seed, and never really thought they would drop as low as a three seed. They’ve been pretty consistent, losing to only teams that are worthy to beat them (losing to only teams that are in the tournament) and winning the ones they should win easily. They weren’t really on par with the top seeds, but I honestly think they’ll make a big run without the 1 in front of their names. If they don’t at least make a decent run at the National Championship, you’ll know they went down swinging.

And now, for my national championship pick:

North Carolina over Notre Dame, 91-88 in overtime.

I honestly think at least one #1 seed will make it to the Final Four, and I think that will be Duke. However, when they get to Houston, they will face off against a Carolina team who is detemined to avenge their loss in the ACC championship game. We’ve already discussed Notre Dame in depth, but their consistent play will make them a force to be reckoned with in the Southwest. If Harrison Barnes and the rest of the young Tar Heels just play their game like they’ve played all season, they will be hard to beat in the Championship game.

So there you have it: all the awards have been handed out, the speeches have been made…now all that’s left to do is to throw the ball up in the air for the opening tip. Enjoy the tournament!

Will Cowboys Stadium become Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood come Super Bowl Sunday?

In the preseason, no one expected these two teams to be playing for football’s biggest prize; the Packers were still trying to wash off the stain that was the Brett Favre controversy, and the Steelers were trying to clean up messes of their own. Yet, through all the adversity these two teams have had to go through, they’re at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas playing for the Lombardi Trophy. Who goes home with the silver Lombardi trophy, and who goes home with nothing but pictures and a good story to tell? Read on, dear reader, read on…

Why The Steelers Will Win:

Clash of the QBs: This game certainly will be, like last year, a clash of two of the NFL’s top-tier quarterbacks: Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger versus Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Of course, Roethlisberger has been here twice before, while Rodgers is in his first Super Bowl. Roethlisberger certainly has the edge, experience-wise, and he certainly has proved that he is deserving of being a top-tier quarterback. Rodgers, after two years of living under the shadow of Brett Favre, is inexperienced, but has shown he is capable of making his own legend in Green Bay. So it comes down to the question: Who is the better quarterback?

The answer, in this case, is Roethlisberger. He can dominate through the air and on the ground. While he can’t hold on to the ball as well as Rodgers (three fumbles lost this year to Rodgers’ one), he is an experienced leader on the field (off the field is another matter). He certainly will be tested against a strong Packer defense, but as he has done twice in the playoffs so far, he’ll find a way to pick it apart and come out on top.

Deferring the Distractions: Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, you know that throughout the course of the regular season, the Steelers have had to live with plenty of distractions, mainly from Roethlisberger’s misconduct off the field. The Super Bowl is well-known for being chock-full of distractions, and this one certainly will not be any different. However, with the fact that the Steelers are fully aware of what can happen on Super Bowl Week coupled with their resilience with their regular-season distractions, Pittsburgh will be fully prepared for anything that comes their way, and that will be huge if they want to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Luckily, they will actually rise above the distraction and play their hardest where it really matters: on the field.

Winning the Defensive Battle: Both teams have dominating defenses which have definitely helped them get to this point. However, the Steelers have the edge here, because they have more experienced and bigger threats on the defensive side of the ball. Troy Polamalu can disrupt the deep threat, while the linebackers, led by the “James Brothers” (Farrior and Harrison) will plug up the Packer running game pretty well. They’ve shut down offenses all season (giving up an average of only 18 points all season—regular and postseason), and there’s really no reason to believe they’ll have a meltdown now. They should be able to shut down the Packer offense pretty easily, and take their seventh Super Bowl title home.

Why The Packers Will Win:

Defense Wins Championships: Sure, the Steelers’ defense is dominating, but the defense in Green Bay is just as stifling. The Packers’ defense has only allowed an average of 70 yards rushing in the postseason (compared with an average of 115 yards in the regular season). The Pittsburgh offensive line is riddled with injuries (in fact, starting center Maurkice Pouncey, who went down in the AFC Championship Game with an ankle injury, has said there’s a 75% chance he’ll play), and that spells a big day for the Packers defensive line and linebackers. Defensive Player of The Year runner-up Clay Matthews has been the definitive defensive leader of this team, and with the Steelers’ offensive line being banged up as it is, he should be meeting up with Roethlisberger a lot over that 60 minutes.

Youth Is Served: The Packers have only four players on their roster who have been in the NFL over ten years (in fact, the longest-serving players on the Packers, cornerback Charles Woodson and receiver Donald Driver, has been in the NFL 12 years). Now, most people might think that inexperience might be the downfall of the Packers in this Super Bowl, but I think the exact opposite. Now, don’t get me wrong; both teams will still come hard. However, I think the younger players’ desire to impress the people in their first Super Bowl (none of these players were on the team when the Packers appeared in their last Super Bowl in 1997; in fact, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was only 14) will compel the Packers to not only play well, but to dominate the Steelers. If they get on them quickly, the older Steelers will tire very quickly, which should give the Packers a chance to pull away in the later stages of the game.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All: When the running game begins to get bogged down by the stingy Steeler defense, they can easily turn to their passing game. They have a great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown for over 4,500 yards this season. They also have a very good receiving corps, led by Driver and Greg Jennings, who have six receivers with over 25 catches and over 300 yards. It will be a test for Polamalu and the Steeler secondary, and one they might not be able to keep up with. If the Packers’ passing game is up to the challenge posed by the long-haired Polamalu, the Lombardi Trophy might be headed back to Green Bay for the fourth time in Super Bowl history.

Prediction: Steelers 31, Packers 21. Both defenses are dominating, but experience definitely will win out over youth this time. The Steelers’ defense is much too dominating for this young Packer defense, and Roethlisberger, Polamalu and the rest of the Steelers will celebrate their third Super Bowl win in five years.

So there you have it: the Steel City will have yet another parade for their beloved Steelers. Does the glass slipper fit the Cinderella Packers, or will the dominant Steelers win one for the index finger on the other hand? You’ll have to watch on Super Bowl Sunday to find out!

Could Rex Ryan be shown the door if things don't improve at the Meadowlands?

We’re nearing the end of the regular season, and as we come closer to this year’s Super Bowl in Dallas, there have been and probably will be some more coaching changes. Who is in danger of getting a pink slip, and who is safely in the clear? We take a look at all 32 NFL coaches (even the interim coaches) and measure the temperature of their seats.

Will your coach’s seat be warming up or cooling down? Let’s find out, starting with the AFC…

Bill Belichick- Ice-Cold.

The Patriots are on a roll this season; some say they even look better than the 2007 17-1 team. Unless they completely implode these last three weeks, they’ll also have yet another top seed and yet another first-round bye. Even when they really didn’t need improvement, he somehow managed to make the team better even though they’ve been accused of cheating. They’ve been able to keep pace in the ultra-competitive AFC East, even though most of the division has improved significantly.

There is absolutely no reason to get rid of Belichick; he’ll probably retire before owner Robert Kraft even thinks about letting him go.

Tony Sparano- Getting Cooler.

After an off year last year and a 50-50 start to the season (2-2), the Dolphins are primed for a playoff spot (they do need some help, but they’re still in the thick of things). However, in the three years he’s been there, Tony Sparano has improved the team quite a bit, giving some solidification to their quarterback position. He hasn’t really been spectacular, only making the playoffs once in his three year tenure, but he has improved the team, especially with his acquisition of more receiving firepower in the form of Brandon Marshall. He also had to deal with the loss of Jason Taylor, but through the draft and a few free agent acrobatics, he was able to shore up that hole as well.

He’s brought the Dolphins out of the one-win nightmare of 2007 to semi-respectability over three years. Expect a contract extension in Miami if the ‘Phins make the playoffs.

Even if they don’t, expect to see Sparano patrolling the sidelines next season.

Rex Ryan- Getting Hotter.

Loud and boisterous doesn’t get the job done. Two weeks ago, the Jets were flying high and looking ahead to the playoffs.

That was before they ran into the meat of their schedule, dropping two critical games and looking terrible doing it. They have had the talent to win, developing quarterback Mark Sanchez from a winner at USC to one of the best rookie quarterbacks in NFL history. Ryan has turned the Jets into a top competitor, but they’re slipping quickly and fading fast in the playoff race. With two of their last three games against division leaders, Rex Ryan must be a little more quiet and get to work, or else this season will be all for naught, when most fans in the Meadowlands were looking for a Super Bowl trophy.

 The swagger is gone; now the Jets must get to work, or Ryan may be feeling the heat at the end of the season.

Chan Gailey- Getting Hotter.

This was not the season the Bills were hoping for: 3-10, and looking at a top-level draft choice. They still could conceivably play spoiler in the AFC East race, but fans in Buffalo were hoping for so much more. They did improve their team, but unfortunately, they can’t improve on their record. They also still have some problems to iron out at key positions, but with some experience (only defensive end Marcus Stroud, kicker Rian Lindell, and punter Brian Moorman have been in the NFL over ten years) they should be able to improve significantly as the years go on. Unfortunately, they need to improve much, much more if they want to compete in the AFC East.

Give Gailey a pass this season, as it is his first season on the banks of Lake Erie and he has had to deal with a brutal AFC East; however, if the Bills don’t compete in the division next year, Gailey may find himself out of Buffalo.

Mike Tomlin- Ice-Cold.

Tomlin handled the Roethlisberger situation with aplomb, and did a very good job at keeping the Steelers together without their leader.

As a matter of fact, the Steelers even went 3-1 without him, and looked very good doing it, beating two playoff-bound teams and very nearly knocking off a third in the Ravens. Tomlin has also been able to keep the team at Super-Bowl caliber even in this parity-happy NFL. With the way they have been building during drafts and free agency, Tomlin has definitely made them a playoff contender for a few years to come.  

This year, the playoffs are all but assured for Pittsburgh, so Tomlin should be looking good for a few seasons.

John Harbaugh- Getting Cooler.

Harbaugh has been very good since coming on in 2008, bouncing back from a 6-10 season in 2007 to be a contender in an AFC North where the Steelers have dominated for so long. He picked up one of the biggest steals in his first draft, getting Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, who has elevated himself into just below Brady and Manning as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. Now, the Ravens can’t be considered among one of the best, but with Harbaugh at the helm, they do seem to compete every single year in a very tough AFC.

If I were Steve Bisciotti, majority owner of the Ravens, I might be tempted to give Harbaugh a long contract extension. Given a few years, they might repeat the actions of 2000 and clinch their first Lombardi Trophy.

Eric Mangini- Getting Hotter.

Yes, the Browns did get better this season, finally digging themselves out of the AFC North cellar. However, 8-8 (at best) will not be enough to make the playoffs this year, which the Browns haven’t done since 2002. For Cleveland fans, who have had to sit through quite a few years of missed playoffs and long for a championship, eight years is way too long to wait for a playoff spot.

Peyton Hillis has suddenly come on for the Browns, which is a good sign. However, they still have some issues, particularly at the quarterback position. Colt McCoy is the heir apparent for now, but they need someone to back him up, as Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace aren’t exactly reliable. Mangini should take his mid-level draft picks (if he wins out, at best) and try to get some improvements in not only those positions, but to build up his defense.

Mangini must bring the team to the postseason and contend in the AFC North next year, or his job looks a little less secure.

Marvin Lewis- Red-Hot.

The same problem that’s in New York looks a little worse in Cincinnati: overconfidence and a swagger that’s really bringing them down.

Unlike New York, however, it’s a shame, because they certainly had the talent to compete this year. They even brought in Terrell Owens, the proverbial Yin to Chad Ochocinco’s Yang. However, they haven’t really been able to utilize either of them. Owens leads the team in touchdowns with nine.

Nine touchdowns.

No wonder the Bengals are mired in the middle of a 2-11 season, a ten-game losing streak, and a battle with Carolina and Detroit for the top draft pick.

Lewis has had enough chances; if he doesn’t get fired, his seat will be very, very hot next season. Another losing season, and he’ll be out of Cincinnati.

Jim Caldwell- Lukewarm.

You really can’t warm up Caldwell’s seat too much; injuries were a big part of the story for the Colts, who now look to be in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since Peyton Manning’s rookie season.

 Manning can’t carry the team by himself, but with injuries to key receivers, running backs and the secondary, this season looks to be very much in doubt. Don’t fault Caldwell too much, however: he can chalk up this season to just bad luck. Luckily, Manning has remained healthy, so he should be ready to go. However, this season will unfortunately go down as a failure, if not for the simple fact that the Colts, while competitive, just fell victim to the Super Bowl hangover.

Give Caldwell a pass this year, but if he can’t deliver next season, expect him to be looking over his shoulder, looking for a pink slip.

Jack Del Rio- Getting Cooler.

The Jaguars improved very well from last season, finally being able to contend with the Colts after struggling to a 5-11 season last year.

Even though they have a laundry list of players on injured reserve, Del Rio has been able to cobble together a respectable team, letting Maurice Jones_Drew and David Garrard run wild en route to what might be their first ever AFC South championship (they did win two division titles, but that was before the realignment). They’ve been extremely competitive despite the injuries, and they’ve been able to compete with the Colts, even though tIndianapolis has had the same problems.

With the Jaguars only having one game that could be considered tough (the Colts in week 15), it’s probably safe to say that they will be in the postseason, barring a gargantuan collapse.

Del Rio’s job is safe for now, but he had better continue these winning ways, or the Florida sun might make his seat a little too hot.

Jeff Fisher- Getting Hotter.

This was the season where the Titans would finally break through and win the Super Bowl that they came only a couple of yards short of.

However, that wasn’t the case.

Chris Johnson, heralded by most to be one of the best running backs in the NFL, has really plateaued, just barely going above 1,000 yards so far this year. They’ve had quarterback problem after quarterback problem, starting with Vince Young’s problems, then Kerry Collins’ injuries. 

They even had to resort to Florida Atlantic rookie Rusty Smith for two weeks, and he didn’t fare very well, only racking up QB ratings of 19 and 26.7 in his two games.

Fisher must drastically improve the Titans in the offseason, or the longest current coaching tenure in the NFL will end with a considerable thud.

Gary Kubiak- Getting Hotter.

Like the Titans, the Texans were supposed to be playoff contenders for the first time ever.

Unfortunately, their brutal schedule and injuries to key players (Andre Johnson is ailing with ankle injuries, and Mario Williams is on injured reserve with a sports hernia) shot this season down pretty quickly. They’ve lost six of their last seven, and Kubiak can safely say that this season is definitely lost.

Houston hasn’t had a playoff team since the Oilers were in town, and it’s pretty safe to say that the fans are probably getting restless. One more season like this, and the fans will be clamoring for Kubiak’s job.

Kubiak must improve the Texans into a playoff contender next season, or he will almost definitely be out in Houston.

Todd Haley- Getting Cooler.

To say Todd Haley has bounced back from his 4-12 2009 season is quite an understatement. The Chiefs have suddenly catapulted themselves into the AFC West race. Although they had a shockingly bad game against San Diego in Week 14, they’ve still had a pretty good season.

Matt Cassel can still make the Patriots kick themselves for getting rid of a perfectly good backup, racking up over 2,500 yards passing. Meanwhile, Jamaal Charles has showed up for the Chiefs, speeding past defensive lines as if they’re standing still and putting up his best numbers in his three seasons. Put those together, and it adds up to a pretty good team. Not a great team, just a good team at the moment. Given enough time, however, I do believe that Haley will be able to improve the team to challenge the top teams in the AFC.

Haley will definitely be here for another few seasons, unless the Chiefs fall back into their 2009 form.

Tom Cable- Getting Cooler.

Even though Cable has been through the fire quite a few times, he’s turned the Raiders into a contender for the AFC West title. Even though they’ve lost three of their last four, they’ve still been able to keep pace with the rest of the division.

He made a relatively good trade, managing to get Jason Campbell to provide some stability to their quarterback position. Along with Darren McFadden, Campbell has been able to band together and compete in the division. They still have some struggling teams left on their schedule (a slipping Colts team and the Chiefs, who right now have a very tenuous grasp on the division crown), but it’s still a tough way to end the season.

Over the next couple of weeks, the Raiders’ results will tell the tale. If they’re able to compete in the waning weeks of the season, Cable should be able to muster enough reasons to stay. If they have a swoon now, Cable should be gone.

Norv Turner- Getting Hotter.

Yes, I know…the Chargers have been able to dominate the AFC West as of late, but that grasp on the crown slipped just a little bit with the resurgence of the Chiefs and Raiders.

They’ve won three of their last four, and proved they can still contend with playoff contenders. However, that doesn’t mean anything if they can’t get to the playoffs. Philip Rivers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he and Antonio Gates, one of thebest receivers, can’t carry the team alone. They need to improve a whole lot if they want to keep their divisional crown and the playoff spot that goes with it. However, with the resurgence of the other teams in the West, they must shore up some more talent if they want to stay competitive.

If they can’t do that, Turner will be shown the door.

Eric Studesville- Too Hot To Handle.

Studesville was brought in as an interim coach two weeks ago, when the Broncos let Josh McDaniels go. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten much better in Denver, losing a close game to the Chiefs and badly to a mediocre Cardinals team.

To be perfectly fair, it really isn’t right to judge a coach after only two weeks, but the Broncos have free-fallen into the AFC West cellar. Studesville will probably be let go after the season, because at this point, he’s just a lame-duck coach on a team that isn’t going anywhere. I hope he can get on somewhere else, because he could be a really good coach if everything goes well.

For now, however, he should just have fun these next couple of weeks in Denver, because they will probably be his last as the Broncos’ head coach.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the NFC. With a lot of teams still in the playoff hunt (even all the teams in the NFC West) will any of them be shown the door? Obviously, we’ve had some handed their pink slip already, but will any more be shown the door?

Join us next time, when we take a look at the NFC coaches and the heat of their seats!