NCAA

March Madness 2019: Five upset picks to make in the opening weekend

March Madness 2019: Five upset picks to make in the opening weekend

First and Second Round upsets are what make March Madness so great.

Seeing some team that no one expected to win knock off a Power 5 team is why everyone loves this time of year. In some ways it’s the iconic David vs. Goliath.

Picking these upsets is a different conversation though. Everyone wants to be the expert that gets to say “I saw this upset coming.” They are hard to predict, another reason why we love it.

While picking First and Second Round upsets will not win you your bracket pool/ challenge, it can make a difference when the final votes are tallied.

These are some upsets that have a strong likelihood of coming to fruition during the first week of the NCAA Tournament.

First Round Upsets

No. 13 Saint Louis over No. 4 Virginia Tech

From afar this upset pick makes zero sense. Virginia Tech, who hails from the best conference in the country, has one of the most potent offenses that can catch fire at any moment. This was already on display in their upset victory over Duke back in February. Saint Louis is only in because they were left standing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

But this is also a Hokie offense that can stutter (47 points in a WIN over NC State) and has Justin Robinson coming off an injury. Even without those obstacles, when they played a hard pressured defense this season it did not end well.

Enter Saint Louis.

They rode their defense through the A10 Tournament. A variety of defensive schemes, mainly a 1-3-1 zone, had them knock off Dayton, Davidson and St. Bonaventure to get to the big dance.

They will force the Hokies to shoot from 3pt range. And with the Hokies’ hot-and-cold offense they are bound to have an off game.

No. 11 Belmont over No. 6 Maryland

As many Terrapins’ fans know this is a team that is capable of making a run to the Sweet 16 or beyond OR they will lose painfully in the First Round.

The latter is their future if Belmont is their opponent.

As the second highest scoring team in the country they average 87.4 points per game. Not only do they have a formidable challenger to Bruno Fernando/ Jason Smith in Dylan Windler, but they have reinforcements. Two other players average over 14 points a contest in both the backcourt and the paint.

Belmont is good and likely would be a better seed if they had a schedule comparable to Power 5 teams.

Only twice has Maryland scored more than Belmont’s averages this season. They were against Loyola (MD) and Mount St. Mary’s back in December and November.

No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin

The Ducks have won eight consecutive games (albeit to Pac-12 opponents) to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Less than a handful of teams can say that much.

Early in the season the Ducks were a preseason favorite with 7-foot-2 Bol Bol on their roster. An injury in mid-December derailed their season until a late push stole them a bid.

Instantly they are a mismatch with four players standing at 6-9 in the starting lineup. While Wisconsin has Ethan Happ and Nate Reuvers, they will have their hands full in the paint. Their depth behind that is a big concern. 

Oregon is a dangerous and unpredictable team that no one wants to face.

No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette

Both of these teams are essentially one man wrecking bands with Ja Morant on Murray State and Markus Howard on Marquette.

But only one of them is fully healthy.

Howard recently aggravated a left wrist injury from earlier in the season. In Marquette’s last game in the Big East Tournament he shot 1-for-15 in a loss to Seton Hall.

If Howard cannot play at 100 percent, somebody on the Golden Eagles will have to match NBA Draft prospect Morant on the Racers.

Second Round

No. 6 Iowa State over No. 3 Houston

Hard to get too ahead of the games, but assuming Iowa State and Houston make it to the Second Round, the Cyclones have a great chance at an upset.

Both of these teams have recent appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Both have a veteran presence on their squad. But one school went through the powerhouse that is the Big 12 and the other went through to the AAC.

The Cyclones last three games were in route to the Big 12 title, over Baylor, Kansas State and Kansas. Houston’s was UConn, Memphis and a loss to Cincinnati; a big difference.

If Iowa State’s trio of talented guards can break through the Cougars’ defense, watch out.

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Tony Bennett turned down a pay raise because his staff needed it more

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Tony Bennett turned down a pay raise because his staff needed it more

Tony Bennett is one of the few people in sports to be offered a raise and turn it down.

Instead of adding dollars to his current contract, the Virginia men's basketball head coach would rather that money be used for other purposes. He wants additional funding, that would be used for a raise, to be given to his assistants or to help other aspects of the program. 

“I have more than I need,” Bennett said in a release. “I’m blessed beyond what I deserve.”

This past season Bennett lead the Cavaliers to their first NCAA men's basketball national championship. Rewriting UVA's history books, of course, warrants Bennett to be rewarded with a new deal and with it an increase in pay. But in a meeting with athletic director Carla Williams and university president Jim Ryan, where a "substantial raise" was discussed, he turned it down.

“This just does not happen in our industry,” Williams said in the release.

He did, however, add another year to his contract. It keeps Bennett in Charlottesville for seven more seasons.

Additional salary money for his assistants is definitely a huge boost to the program is trying to build. Every year several of the top 'Power Five' assistant coaches are the sought out targets of new head coaching candidates and lower programs. For example, Dennis Gates moved as an assistant at Florida State to the head coaching spot at Cleveland State this offseason. Year-in and year-out, a coach has to expect to deal with staff turnover.

In his 10-year tenure with the Cavaliers, Bennett has turned Virginia into national contenders. Since 2014, the Cavaliers have earned a No. 1 seed into the NCAA Tournament four times, including the past two years. They've also won two ACC tournament championships and three regular-season titles in that span.

Currently, all three of his assistants from last year's championship team are staffed for the upcoming season. His top assistant, Jason Williford, has been with Bennett ever since he took over the program.

This practice of requesting money being diverted to assistants is not new. Jim Larranaga left George Mason for Miami because of his request to pay assistants more money was declined. 

Bennett is even showing further support for the program. He has donated $500,000 toward a career-development program in place for current and former players of the program.

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The 6 craziest things that happened in Week 3 of the college football season

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The 6 craziest things that happened in Week 3 of the college football season

If you don't know what makes college football so glorious (and are not a Maryland fan) check out the Maryland-Temple game from Saturday. There are good crazy games in college football and then there are the bad ones. That was one of the ugliest, craziest, most glorious games you will ever see. But more on that later.

You are not going to get anything like that in the NFL. And here's the thing, that was just one game! Every week is full of those crazy moments!

Here are the six craziest things that happened in Week 3.

Kansas beat a Power 5 team on the road!

A win for Kansas in and of itself is crazy. The fact that it came against a Power Five and on the road team is downright shocking.

The Jayhawks' 48-24 win over Boston College snapped a 48-game Power Five road losing streak. They have not won a Power Five game on the road since 2008. They were considered 20-point underdogs and managed the blowout win!

In all seriousness, it may be early but you have to tip your cap to the Mad Hatter. Les Miles' decision to take the Kansas job was widely scoffed, but he has won two of his first three games which is already better than most people probably expected.

By the way, from a local angle, this does not bode well for Virginia Tech who lost the Boston College in the opening week of the season. The Hokies had to rally from a 14-3 deficit just to beat Furman on Saturday. This could be a very long season in Blacksburg.

Maryland and Temple played the most absurd game ever

I don't know if I am going to be able to do this game justice by trying to describe the mayhem that happened in Philadelphia. Basically, neither team wanted to win the game and they both made that very clear...repeatedly.

Just to try to give you an idea, this game featured a muffed punt, a goal-line stand, a safety off a bad snap on a punt, a horrendous fake field goal attempt, a missed field goal, an interception negated by a penalty, seven Maryland players failing to pick up a fumble, a defensive holding call on third down which led to first and goal and eventually the go-ahead touchdown, a second goal-line stand and a seven-yard punt.

Maryland recovered a muffed punt on Temple's 19-yard line, returned a punt to Temple's 4-yard line and started a drive at Temple's 10-yard line after a seven-yard punt. That's three drives that began inside Temple's 20 and the Terps earned exactly 0 points off those three drives.

If you want to read more about it, here are the ugliest plays from Maryland's first loss of the season.

Pat Narduzzi seriously thinks he was being bold by calling the most conservative game ever

Coaching is hard and requires a lot of split-second decisions that will be second-guessed repeatedly whenever you get something wrong. It's a tough job, I get it. What I don't get is when a coach makes a bad decision, it blows up in his face and he continues to argue it was the right decision afterward because...reasons.

Pitt and Penn State played on Saturday in the last scheduled meeting between these two rivals. In a big rivalry game on the road against a highly ranked opponent, you would expect the Panthers would be aggressive looking for the upset. Instead, Pat Narduzzi called the most conservative game ever then tried to tell everyone who dared question him how he was right and they were wrong.

Pitt punted from the Penn State 37 in the first quarter, lost five yards on a third-and-goal from the two which force a field goal and punted from the Penn State 48 in the fourth quarter instead of going for it on fourth-and-two.

But wait, it gets worse.

Down 17-10 with less than five minutes in the game, Pitt had a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Again, this is a rivalry game on the road against a top-15 team and Narduzzi decided it was a good time to go for the field goal. A field goal!

Karma, no doubt reacting to the universal disgust from everyone watching, immediately struck and the Panthers missed the field goal.  Pitt would go on to lose 17-10.

And what did Narduzzi have to say for himself after the game?

"You need two scores to win the football game, unless you guys are playing for overtime," Narduzzi said. "We're trying to win the football game."

So...Narduzzi's answer is that he wasn't playing for overtime? Well, I guess he's right since Pitt lost in regulation.

The defiance is my favorite part. Narduzzi evidently thinks he was being aggressive by not going for it on fourth down because, hey, he's not playing for overtime. OK, so why not try to score the touchdown and go for two? Or maybe they should have intentionally turned the ball over at the 1 and tried to force a safety.

But how dare you question the wisdom of Narduzzi!

"Again, we can look back at all the calls, guys," Narduzzi said. "All the armchair quarterbacks, you guys got those armchair desks there. It's easy to make those decisions."

Yeah, it's easy to make those obvious decisions because literally everyone knew you were wrong, coach.

The game-tying field goal called back when Michigan State called for too many men

This one is going to sting in East Lansing for a long time.

With Arizona State leading 10-7, the Spartans attempted a 42-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to tie the game. Kicker Matt Coghlin nailed the kick and the game headed to overt...oh wait, that's not what happened.

The kick was good, but Michigan State had 12 men on the field which is generally frowned upon. The Spartans were flagged and moved back five yards and...well, you can probably guess what happened next.

Clemson is pretty much getting a bye to the ACC title game

The Tigers are ranked No. 1 and deservedly so. They are the defending national champs and are a dominant football team. As good as Clemson is, however, its conference is...not.

Here are some of the highlights from the ACC's week:

  • Boston College was blown out at home by perennial punchline Kansas.
  • Pitt lost to Penn State because its coach decided not to go for a game-tying touchdown
  • NC State was blown out by a bad West Virginia team
  • Virginia Tech had to rally back from a 14-3 deficit just to beat FCS Furman.
  • Georgia Tech lost to its FCS opponent, The Citadel, in overtime.

So...yeah. Clemson pretty much has a bye from here to the conference championship game.

Iowa State loses game off a muffed punt after Cyclone knocks over his own punt returner

Trailing by one point, Iowa State forced Iowa to punt with 1:37 left in the game. This was the Cyclones' chance to erase a four-game losing streak to its heated rival. This was going to be their moment to announce to the world that Iowa State has arr...what's that? They muffed the punt? Oh no.

Generally smashing into your own teammate is not a good strategy. That is especially true when you are trying to field a punt and your teammate is the returner.

Now that's how you close out a rivalry game.