Friday, March 30, 2007

The Final Four, and the Battle of the Blogger Tournaments

Lots of stuff to get to in Hammer Land today, as I prepare for the biggest weekend of Georgetown basketball since Patrick Ewing (senior) was throwing down tomahawk jams for John Thompson (junior, the father) at the old Cap Center in Landover, Maryland in 1985. Believe me when I say that I can barely contain myself at the thought of my beloved Hoyas actually playing in the actual Final Four. Since before I was at Georgetown, which was the time that bridged Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson's stints at the school, the once-proud basketball program had been floundering. Sure we did have that one run to the Elite 8 in Iverson's last year there in 1996, but even then we didn't even manage to win the Big East or the Big East tournament, and UConn was better than us at basically all times while AI was thuggin' it up. And other than that one year, Georgetown was basically off the college basketball map for most of the time since the early 1990s when Mutombo and then Mourning graduated on to the NBA.

I can honestly say that I never really thought the Hoyas would get back to the Final Four again. Ever. It's just that John Thompson the elder had really burned out after his heyday in the mid 1980s. He always coached great defense, but he simply didn't bother much with recruiting anymore by the time the mid 90's came along, and his teams played stoopid, stoopid basketball on offense. Even after JT finally retired to focus on his business ventures in the world of Las Vegas slot machines, the team redickulously hired longtime JT assistant Craig Esherick, and the result was more of the same: stupid basketball, even worse recruiting, and going nowhere. I think we backed into the Sweet 16 one year under Esherick when we lucked out and got to face 14-seeded Weber State on the round of 32 after they had upset someone in the first round of the tournament, and even then it took a last-second putback by NBA utility man Don Reid to win that game as it was. But the overall point is that, since the late 1980s, Georgetown had been completely off the map when it came to the college basketball scene, and with all the poor decisions that were made regarding the program like the hiring of that stiff Craig Esherick, there was no reason to believe it would ever change.

But it all did change the day that John Thompson III was hired from Princeton, where he had played and coached under coaching legend Pete Carill. I remember being disgusted, furious even, that the team would even dare to hire another member of the John Thompson family. After JT the elder had run our program into the ground for the better part of his last 10 years at the school, and then they had moved on to lifetime JT assistant Esherick who had only further worsened the decline, the thought of brining in JT's son as the next coach made me want to vomit in my shoes. And yet, from almost the moment JTIII stepped foot on the Georgetown campus, this team has begun taking on a different air. They play well, they play confident, and most of all, they play smart. I haven't been able to say that about the Hoya basketball team in at least 20 years. But JTIII is finally living in real life the hypothetical that everyone has been talking about for years -- running the Princeton offense, but with actual players, with actual talent. And it's working like a charm. I don't ever recall seeing a team play this smart of basketball, get this many easy baskets, and frustrate teams this much by making them work hard for every basket, while themselves pouring in open layup after open layup after open layup, even from the halfcourt offense. It's an amazing thing to watch, really, and I suspect that people will really get a kick out of watching the team play when they tune into the Final Four on Saturday night at 6pm ET, in particular those people who do not usually watch all the tournament games until it gets to the end like this. There is honestly no other team in the nation that runs an offense quite like Georgetown (other than Princeton), and people are in for a real treat when they see us do our thing tomorrow night.

So, on to my picks. As you may have noticed, I have made picks against the spread -- for entertainment purposes only, of course -- on each of the past two Fridays, going 1-1 two Fridays ago, and then 3-1 last Friday for a total record of 4-2 so far in this year's Big Dance. I'm looking to further extend this streak today as I pick the two Final Four games for you here and now. The first game is, of course, my #2 seeded Georgetown Hoyas going up against #1 seed Ohio State, and although this line opened up at OSU minus 1 point, the smart money appears to have been on Georgetown this week as the line quickly moved from OSU by 1 to Georgetown by 1. So currently your line for the game stands at the Hoyas minus 1 point. As I've said earlier this week, I think the Hoyas can win this game. It's not going to be a blowout, that's for sure, but I'm going to go ahead and predict a small win by the Hoyas. After watching all the NCAA Tournament games, I am very confident that we are a better team overall than OSU. I have no doubts whatsoever that OSU's alleged freshman center Greg Oden will be the best player on the court, but OSU has not played well so far in this tournament overall, and Georgetown's biggest weakness in the tournament so far -- our big man Roy Hibbert's penchant for getting into foul trouble early and often -- has also been a problem for OSU with Oden. Those two ought to foul each other out of this game before all is said and done, and it's a pretty safe bet that both big men will spend more time on the bench than either team would like. But, whether Oden is out there or not, I just think the supporting cast of my Hoyas is stronger than the supporting cast of OSU, and I think that discrepancy gets all the greater when the two big men are out of the game. In all, I think Georgetown will pull out a close one, which means I have to go with Georgetown, even minus the 1 point. It's going to be close, but if I think the Hoyas will win, no way I can pick the other team just because of a paltry one point spread. Go Georgetown!!!!

The second semifinal game on Saturday night pits defending national champion and overall #1 seed Florida against #2 seeded UCLA in a rematch of last year's finals. Florida, who as I mentioned was already ranked #1 in the nation coming into this tournament, has had a few close-ish games, but unlike teams like Georgetown and OSU, has never been in serious danger of losing as the games have gotten down to the final minutes. They look strong, have arguably the most all-around talent in the country, and have a clearly wonderful coach in Billy Donovan who I believe is in his third Final Four now since the year 2000. That's pretty impressive right there. As such, Florida is favored by 3 points over UCLA, whom I believe actually has one of the two or three best coaches in the country in their own right in Ben Howland, former Pittsburgh head coach who has his team in their second straight Final Four. UCLA started off the season hot as ballz, but then went on a bit of a cooler in the second half of the season before making it into the tournament as a #2 seed, dispensing with both #3 seeded Pitt and then regional #1 seed Kansas with relatively little trouble as they held the lead for almost the entire game in both of UCLA's games this past weekend. UCLA has looked very good thus far in the tournament, and like I said they have hands-down one of the best coaches in the country on their sideline. In the end, however, I think I will have to go with the experience and talent on this Florda squad to just barely squeak one out against a very formidable UCLA team. That said, with Florida favored by 3 points, and with the very real possibilitiy of UCLA winning the game outright, I think the prudent bet is on UCLA to cover the 3 point spread.

So there's my picks for the two Final Four games on Saturday in Atlanta. Georgetown minus 1 point, and UCLA plus 3 points. Hopefully my streak of solid sports picks over the past year on the blog can continue, in particular with respect to my Hoyas. And rest assured, if Georgetown wins on Saturday, I will drink myself into oblivion that night, and just for you guys, any of you lame enough to be playing online poker late on Saturday night, I will try to log on in my hammeredness and if you come find me, I'm sure I will be truly entertaining to you all, and if you ever wanted a cheap and easy chance to dupe me out of my money at the virtual tables, you will never have a better chance than that (unless of course the Hoyas win the title on Monday night). Either way I will be back on Monday with my picks for the national championship game that evening.

One other big item to discuss today is the Battle of the Blogger Tournaments. This is a brand spanking new series of blogger tournaments, or more accurately, a new challenge that tracks the bloggers' performance in a set of existing blogger tournaments, and it's an idea that Al, Mookie and I have been kicking around for some time. I know when I was down in AC for the WSOP Circuit event at Caesar's a few weeks back it is something that Al and I were discussing, and frankly it's an extension of an idea that I myself have wanted to do for sometime, even since back in my Cardsquad days. Basically, the idea is that we will be tracking points based on the bloggers' performance during each of the MATH, the Mookie, Al's Riverchasers tournaments, and I think Miami Don's Big Games as well, and at the end of it all there will be a Tournament of Champions for the best of the best performers from these events. The best part is that Al, being The Man Who Knows How to Get Stuff, has managed to secure a bunch of really fucking cool prizes to award to our top finishers in these events. Although there are probably more prizes to come, and certainly the exact details of everything are still to be worked out, it sounds like we will already be providing a large full tilt weekend tournament buyin, a Nintendo Wii game system and a Nintendo DS Lite system, and probably various cash and other prizes as well. The overall point is to attract interest to the regular blogger tournaments, to reward the best performers over a fixed period of time in these events, and to pay out some great cash and other prizes as a result of people's play in tournaments with the larger group. We've set up a new page on blogger just for the Battle of the Blogger Tournaments, and you can check there to see updates as we move forward as far as the prizes, the schedule and the scoring. What we do know is that the first event should be the Mondays at the Hoy tournament on this coming Monday, April 2. Be sure to check back here on Monday (like you wouldn't have anyways!) for updates to The Battle, and potentially for some news about the MATH tournament on Monday evening, and I'll make sure to get you all the latest and greatest information.

OK I'm going to go post this now so that it gets up at some semblance of a reasonable time today.

Go Hoyas!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Blogger Irongirl01 said...

Even though I had Memphis beating Georgetown in the semi's, I am rooting for the Hoyas to beat Ohio State (that will knock the only one who can beat me in my money bracket pool out of contention).

GO HOYAS GO HOYAS. (not that I dont want to win Miami Don's pool too.

Thank goodness my alma mater sucks in Basketball (Univ Of Colorado)

2:32 AM  
Blogger Littleacornman said...

So that's how you got the name Hoyazo.All makes sense now.

2:47 AM  
Blogger FishyMcDonk said...

I lived in Bethesda 81-84, and I'll tell you there nothing more exciting (ok, there was, the 'skins in the super bowl) than Georgetown in the final four two of those years. We're hockey mad here so I don't follow NCAA basketball much anymore, but good to see them back.

3:21 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Yeah Fishy, the stinkin' redskins actually won the superbowl during one of my years at Georgetown, and I can say without hesitation that DC was flipping crazy that entire run through the playoffs, all culminating of course in the night they beat down hard on the Bills, which was still one of the craziest, hardest-partying nights of my entire life (and the cops beat the shit out of me, but that's another story entirely). Fun times. Now I just hope the redskins' plane crashes every time they're on it. Go EAGLES!!!!

3:47 AM  
Blogger smokkee said...

Tina thinks Oh St is a lock. get ready for a major letdown.

10:21 AM  

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