Elite Eight Preview & Picks: UConn/Mizzou, Pitt/Nova

#3-seed Missouri vs. #1-seed UConn
Tip-Off: 4:40 PM ET
Sagarin Ratings: UConn (94.21), Mizzou (91.04)
Line: UConn -5.5

Missouri’s strength is their forward duo of Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll, but guard J.T. Tiller scored a season-high 23 points against Memphis. Mizzou got Memphis to play at its pace, but I don’t think that the Tigers are going to find the Huskies as willing to run with them. UConn plays its best defense when Hasheem Thabeet is planted firmly in the lane. They don’t foul (Memphis sent Mizzou to the line 45 times on Thursday) and they are pretty efficient offensively, which one of the flaws of John Calipari’s team. If UConn gets into an up-and-down affair, Thabeet is far more likely to find himself in sitting on the bench in foul trouble. I’d expect UConn to push when they have the advantage but otherwise slow the tempo down. Mizzou’s run has been great, but UConn is playing as well as anyone in the tournament and given the Huskies’ balance of talent, that’s a pretty scary proposition. But 5.5 points is a lot to give the Tigers, who are playing the best basketball of their season right now. I think I’d stay away from this one wager-wise, but UConn is my pick to win it.

#3-seed Villanova vs. #1-seed Pittsburgh
Tip-Off: 7:05 PM ET
Sagarin Ratings: Pittsburgh (91.97), Villanova (89.59)
Line: Pittsburgh -2

I picked Pitt to win the whole thing and every game they love to scare the ever-loving crap out of me. Needless to say, I’m not as optimistic about the Panthers making it to the Final Four much less win the whole thing. The one thing that they’re doing better than anyone else this in this tournament is keeping their poise in the clutch. They have three of the best players in the college game in Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields, but they aren’t getting much offensive help from any of their other players. In each of the three tournament games, they’ve kept it in about second or third gear for much of the game before flipping a switch in the waning minutes. This is a dangerous game to be playing, especially against a Villanova squad that looks so good right now. The Wildcats have blown out two pretty good teams (UCLA and Duke) and they beat Pitt by 10 at home in the two teams’ only meeting this season. In that game, Blair was saddled with foul trouble, so Pitt should fare better if he’s able to play his usual minutes. So with the Panthers favored by two, we have a team that isn’t playing very well (but is winning) favored by a bucket over a team that is as hot as a pistol and already won the previous meeting. If I were a betting man and you put a gun to my head, I think I’d take the Wildcats and the points, though if the game is tied or within one with two minutes to play, Pitt probably covers (if that makes any sense). The thing that really worries me about laying any money on Nova is the fact that Panthers have already lost to the Wildcats and they know they have to take them seriously. I’d stay away from this one too. My brain is saying Nova and my gut is saying Pitt, but my pick is Pitt. I think they play better and win a tight one.

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TSR’s running diary of March Madness: Sweet Sixteen in the land of Hooters

That’s right, tonight’s coverage of the Sweet Sixteen comes to you from the wonderful world of Hooters! I’m sitting in the Costa Mesa Hooters branch to be exact.

Since there are still games on at the same time, I feel the need to watch them in a sports bar, and I wore out Rudy’s last Thursday, so Hooters seemed like the next logical choice. Besides, it was sort of a compromise for my buddy Tom and I. He lives a ways away, so it’s tough to ask him to drive the extra twenty minutes to get to Newport Beach.

Tom and I used to play basketball on Sunday, and afterward we’d always go to The Black Watch, which is a dive bar in Huntington Beach. The Black Watch is the kind of place where there’s always a heavy ratio of guys to girls (sometimes 10 or 15 to 1) and most of the women (save for the bartenders) were usually a minimum of 50 pounds overweight. No knock on them, but the point is that The Black Watch is a place to drink beer. They didn’t even have a liquor license. The team made an agreement about ten years ago for $5 pitchers and they were still honoring it when the team fell apart. Anyway, I found out early on that Tom was from Indiana, so we’re both Midwestern boys — I’m from Wisconsin — and we hit it off quickly.

The toughest part about watching a couple of games at Hooters is picking the right table. In my experience, there are three groups of girls who waitress at Hooters: a) the super-friendly girls that eventually tell you their entire life’s story, b) the bitchy girls who see their time at Hooters as a stepping stone to their ultimate goal of being an actress/model/whatever, and c) the normal ones that would be waitressing somewhere else if they weren’t semi-hot and willing to wear the uniform for some extra tips. Every Hooters has a couple of duds — maybe they got the job through a friend or have packed on thirty pounds since they were hired — but they’re usually aware of how they’re holding on for dear life and usually act as sweet as can be to make up for it.

The key to picking the right table at Hooters comes down to a few factors: 1) if you’re watching a game, you want to pick a table that has a good view of a TV (or two), 2) you want a waitress that’s cute, but not too hot that they fall into the Bitchy Group, and 3) you want a table that it’s in the middle of all the action. Clearly, being able to watch the game that you came to Hooters to watch is the most important, but the others are vital as well. You’re stuck with your waitress ALL NIGHT, so if she doesn’t want to be there, she’s going to make you feel the same way. Sure, nine or ten girls will come by and sign a piece of paper that’s sitting on your table — I have no idea why they do this — but you’re pretty much stuck with your waitress for the night, unless there’s a shift change. Lastly, if you have a table in the middle of the restaurant, you’ll have a nice vantage point of everyone coming and going.

In Hooters (establishments) that aren’t very big, it can pay to evaluate the layout before choosing your table. Maybe the restaurant only has six or eight girls working, so you can find one that you like (and that looks friendly) and see what section she’s working. This method can be daunting in the larger Hooters (establishments) where there are 25 or 30 girls buzzing about. In such cases, it’s best to grab a table in the middle with a good view of a television and hope for the best.

If your waitress doesn’t greet you with a smile, you’re in trouble. Just say that you need a minute before ordering and she’ll usually be gone before you finish your sentence. Use this time to survey the rest of the restaurant and try to find a table with a nicer waitress. Believe me, it’s worth it. The #1 job of a Hooters waitress is to make you feel like less of an a-hole for being at a Hooters.

On to the diary…

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Yahoo Sports probe finds that UConn violated recruiting rules

Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel co-authored a revealing look inside the recruitment of top high school prospect, Nate Miles. The article is meaty and detailed, but here’s the gist…

The University of Connecticut violated NCAA rules in the recruitment of former guard Nate Miles, a six-month investigation by Yahoo! Sports has found.

Miles was provided with lodging, transportation, restaurant meals and representation by Josh Nochimson – a professional sports agent and former UConn student manager – between 2006 and 2008, according to multiple sources. As a representative of UConn’s athletic interests, Nochimson was prohibited by NCAA rules from having contact with Miles and from providing him with anything of value.

Agents aren’t just recruiting players from college programs, they are recruiting players for them, according to an NCAA official.

The UConn basketball staff was in constant contact with Nochimson during a nearly two-year period up to and after Miles’ recruitment. Five different UConn coaches traded at least 1,565 phone and text communications with Nochimson, including 16 from head coach Jim Calhoun. Yahoo! Sports obtained the records through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents were requested in October and received two weeks ago.

The NCAA allows a single phone call per month to a prospect or his family in a player’s junior year of high school. That limit was exceeded over several months from late 2006 into 2007. In December of 2006, for instance, Tom Moore, then a UConn assistant coach, made 27 calls to Miles’ guardian and a person Miles referred to as an uncle. Moore made three calls to Miles.

From that first meeting until Miles was expelled from the university in October 2008 for violating a restraining order brought by a female student, Nochimson played an integral role in the player’s life.

Nochimson filed paperwork with the NBA Players Association to decertify himself as an agent in June 2008 after UConn All-American and Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton fired him as his business manager and accused him of stealing more than $1 million.

As an alumnus and former part of the men’s basketball program, Nochimson is defined by the NCAA as a representative of UConn’s “athletic interests.” As such, NCAA rules say he could “not be involved in the recruiting process” and could “not make any contact, including telephone calls and letters, to a prospect or the prospect’s family, on or off campus.”

The fact that Moore knew Nochimson and Miles were talking was a violation.

When I first heard this news, two thoughts jumped to mind:

1) Why is Yahoo Sports releasing this story on the eve of the Sweet Sixteen?
2) Who the hell is Nate Miles?

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Ty Lawson plans to play on Friday

It looks like Ty Lawson’s toe is good enough to play against Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen on Friday.

“It’s getting better,” Lawson said Tuesday. “I’m walking on it better. Hopefully in a couple of days, it’ll be back to 100 percent.”

He participated in the team’s shootaround Monday and expected to go through some drills during practice this week. But the team has been cautious, keeping him out of practice for almost two weeks, in addition to missing both of the Tar Heels’ ACC tournament games and their NCAA opener against Radford.

[Roy] Williams said the injury will linger.

“It’s here,” he said. “It’s going to be here. It’s not going to go away. It’s going to hurt the whole rest of the season until he can take that time off.”

“I don’t think he’s going to be 100 percent,” Williams said. “But we’ll take whatever we can get, especially if it’s like that performance Saturday. That’s about as good as I’ve had a point guard play in 21 years as a head coach. I even told him that I was thinking of calling him ‘Rambo’ instead of ‘Dennis the Menace.”

All right, so he’s going to play. After performing well (though looking a little gimpy) against LSU, that’s no surprise. But is 80% or 90% of Ty Lawson enough to get the Tar Heels past a good Gonzaga team? That question will be answered on Friday.

How well is my bracket doing?

In honor of “drebola,” who said the following over on Reddit…

I love Paulsen’s analyses, but in practice they’re actually useless. I replicated his bracket for one of my pools and it faillled. (Notice you don’t see any coverage of “how well is my bracket doing” on his site… or do you? I don’t know, I don’t see it.)

Particularly because he relies a lot on Sagarin ratings. I keep meaning to come up with a figure for how well Sagarin ratings performed so far in this tournament but haven’t gotten around to coming up with a solid methodology.

…I am going to provide some coverage of how well my bracket is doing. (I thought I did this in my Sweet Sixteen preview intro and in Part III of my March Madness diary, but I’ll summarize here for anyone who thinks I’m dodging my past.)

The first round was rough, and I only got 22 of 32 games correct (but my worst loss was an Elite Eight team, so it’s not like it killed my bracket). Of those 10 losses, six were by four points or less; Ohio State, Utah State, Clemson, Illinois, Butler and Florida State lost by an average of 2.7 points, so these are games that could have gone either way. Conversely, I only won two games — UCLA and Oklahoma State — by four points or less.

West Virginia lost by eight, but the game was close the whole way, and even Utah kept its game close deep into the second half before giving up a late run that made the score look worse than it actually was. There were two bad picks — BYU and Wake Forest, and I’m betting a lot of people got that the last one wrong. They were the #1-ranked team at one point this season — who’s expecting them to lose to Cleveland State?

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