Pablo Sandoval hits three home runs. Barry Zito not only is unhittable, but also knocks in a run against probably the best pitcher of this generation. Angel Pagan gets a double by hitting a routine bouncer that hits the third base bag. Tim Lincecum strikes everyone out in a season where he's basically been a pitching machine. Gregor Blanco can suddenly get to everything. Call me crazy, but are you getting a vibe that the Giants stole that Cardinal October magic? Good thing I got in on the Giants to win at +160 already. I know I said I was going to be rooting for the Tigers and thought they were the better team, but so much money poured in on Detroit that the +160 for the Giants was too juicy to pass up. Obviously. Any way, I wrote some more previews while watching the game.
33. Kansas State Wildcats. You know, K-State has a pretty good thing going lately and have morphed into one of the most consistently athletic teams in the country year-after-year, and that's not going to change this season. The Wildcats have most of last year's team back, including eight of their top nine scorers from last season, which means they'll most likely still be a god awful jump-shooting team (unless someone or someones went Eric Harris on it this offseason) but that's ok because they should make up for it, again, by being phenomenal at attacking the basket and grabbing a high percentage of all those bricks they throw up there. Of course, they just hired Bruce Weber and since we all know a coaching match-up between Weber and paper bag would be a toss-up we can probably expect this nice little run by K-State to fall by the wayside as they descend into mediocrity once again and Weber moves on to destroy yet another program.
32. St. Mary's Gaels. I know what you're worrying about, and yes don't worry floppy haired uber Beiber dork Matthew Dellavedova is back for one more year. And someone tell me if I'm totally crazy, but I'm getting a distinct Steve Nash vibe from this kid. Think about it. Floppy hair. From a foreign country that speaks a weird brand of English. Under the radar recruit who lands at a WCC school. Immediate impact as a freshman, then end up getting progressively better, developing into one of the best PGs in the land, and single-handedly leading their team to upsets against bigger (and better) teams. I really think we're in for a monster year from both Dellavedova and St. Mary's, if only to validate my Nash theory. But if St. Mary's ends up making the Sweet 16 this year I'd start finding ways to bet YES on things like "Someday Matthew Dellavedova will win two NBA MVP awards."
31. St. Louis Billikens. St. Louis has been on a slow build
since they hired Rick Majerus, so it'll be interesting to see if is
absence (taking a year off for some kind of medical leave) hurts them,
because this team has a chance to be very good this year. It's actually
kind of a an interesting case because they only lose one dude from last
year's team, but it's the dude that was kind of their leader who did
everything (1st in points, 2nd in rebs, 5th in assists, 4th in steals, 1st in FG%, 1st in FT%).
Talent-wise they're pretty loaded, but losing the head coach, the team
leader, and now their best returning player, Kwamain Mitchell, is out
for six weeks with a broken foot. I don't know, that seems like a lot
to deal with for a team who is supposed to be in good shape for this
season. Kind of makes me think of the Cincinnati Bengals for some
30. BYU Cougars. It's always interesting how the Mormon faith impacts college hoops. There's the scheduling, because BYU can't/won't play on Sundays which impacts the NCAA Tournament. Brandon Davies got suspended for the season two years ago because he had sex and then admitted it to his coach. And there's always the random Mormon mission that takes a player off the team mid-way through his career. This time, however, BYU is actually getting a big boost, because Tyler Haws back. Two seasons ago Haws averaged 11 points and 4 rebounds per game as a freshman and still has a 48-straight made free throw streak. Getting a guy back who has already proven he can play is golden, and add Haws to a mix that includes the 6-11 Davies (15 & 8 last year) and point guard Matt Carlino (12 & 5) and BYU won't even miss the loss of a couple of seniors and should have no problem grabbing an NCAA bid. Assuming everybody keeps their pants on, or at least has the common sense to not go running to their bishop about it.
29. Drexel Dragons. You know what's a really sweet team name? Dragons. Awesome. Anyway, the Dragons, who are routinely one of the best defensive squads in the country, are set up for success this year. The only lose one major contributor off last season's team that set a school record for victories, and with VCU now in the A-10 and Old Dominion ineligible for the conference title since they're bolting to C-USA after this season it's wide open for Drexel to take the league crown. As I mentioned Drexel is always nails defensively, but last year's edition could actually score some points as well and a Dragon team that can score is pretty scary for somebody in round 1 of the tournament. Like, scary like that Tiamat five-headed dragon from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. Yes I watched it as a kid and it was awesome. I also own a DVD with 10 episodes on it, what of it? No you're the nerd.
28. Wisconsin Badgers. Ok, I've learned my lesson. I don't know if it's my hatred of the Badgers because they're evil (I mean they even wear red, pay attention) or just because they're so boring, but every year I think the Badgers will be horrible and every year I'm wrong. Look at this season - Jordan Taylor is gone and there isn't a player on the roster who looks like they can replace his production, even by committee. Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans are the two best players coming back, and Evans should be a six man and Berggren is terrible. Their top guards are going to be Ben Brust and Josh Gasser and neither of them scares anybody. But of course, none of that matters. They're going to play so slow it puts everyone to sleep, bore everyone to death, never turn the ball over, grab all the available rebounds, and win way more games than I'd ever expect. Just like every year. It's like an evil version of college basketball Groundhog Day.
27. Marquette Golden Eagles. At first when I was ranking teams off the top of my head I think I had Marquette in the 40s or 50s simply because losing both Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom to the NBA is a crusher, but when I did more reading I realized there is plenty still here to work with (plus counting out Buzz Williams is like counting on Bruce Weber). Their back court is loaded with Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue, who is one of my favorite players because he has a sweet name, a sweet game, and he pissed on Wisconsin, and their returning leading scorer is a big man so they'll have a nice balance. The back court should be their strength, but that doesn't mean their shooting - the three returning guards shot combined 48-162 from 3 last year and that will probably hold them back from being a truly dangerous team. Still better than Wisconsin though.
26. Ohio Bobcats. You only need to know one thing - yes, D.J. Cooper is back.
You remember Cooper, right? He's the guy who pretty much beat
Georgetown two years ago and Michigan last year in the NCAA Tournament.
And he was pretty good against South Florida too, helping Ohio to the
Sweet 16. Yes, he's back and now a senior. As is last year's second
leading scorer Walter Offutt. And #3 Reggie Keely. #4 Nick Kellog is
back too, but he's only a junior. #5 Ivo Baltic is a senior though.
You see where I'm going with this? The Bobcats have their top nine
players back and all but one is a senior or junior. The have top end
talent in Cooper and Offutt. And they must have a pretty good chemistry
together because even though their coach left to take the Illinois job
nobody transferred out. This could be a very special year, which feels
weird to say about a MAC team. Of course since they are a MAC team,
it's pretty likely if they don't win their conference tournament they
don't go dancing at all. Which would suck like Nick Blackburn. Or Justin Verlander, I suppose.