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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kyrie Irving may return against Hampton - Grady Sizemore (knee) shows progress - Seth Davis Gives His Picks -

Seth Davis Gives His Picks

Many people who will watch the NCAA tournament this week are just tuning in to college hoops for the first time this season. Real hoopheads like us, however, have been locked in since the start of practice in October. Nothing we see over the next three weeks is going to surprise us. We've trained ourselves to expect the unexpected.
That has been the theme throughout the 2010-11 season. Parity. Upsets. Mass mediocrity. Even in a bracket where we have two No. 1 seeds who have lost just two games, it's not hard to spy some potentially fatal flaws. What about Ohio State's lack of depth? Can the Buckeyes win a fast game? Does Kansas have the discipline to maximize its talent, or is there someone out there who is poised to be this year's Ali Farokhmanesh?
I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I know I am asking the right questions. It's not whether we'll see any upsets but where those upsets will come from. As you look at my thoughts through each region and fill out your bracket in time for tonight's 6:30 p.m. opening round game, I encourage you to take a few chances. Because if you don't do it this year, you never will.

• Everyone immediately bought into the theme that this is the toughest region, but I think that's a reaction to the names on the front of the jerseys rather than the players who fill them. Regular visitors to this space know that I am a big believer in experience during the NCAA tournament, and three of the "name schools" in this region are also three of the youngest teams in the tournament. According to Kenpom.com, Syracuse is ranked 275th in the country in experience, Kentucky is 314th and North Carolina is 323rd. I have two of those three in my Sweet 16, but if you're looking for highly seeded teams from this region to knock out in the early rounds, you should look at those three.

• North Carolina fans should be concerned about the way their team played in the ACC tournament. Getting blown out wire-to-wire by Duke was bad enough, but the Heels also spotted Miami and Clemson big leads before rallying. That to me is the sign of a team that does not yet know how to play March basketball. Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall have made great strides the last two months, but they have never experienced the pressure of playing a game where a loss can end their season.

• I've been singing Xavier's praises for the last couple of months, and I think it drew a favorable matchups in Marquette and potentially Syracuse. The Musketeers have a fabulous perimeter trio of Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dante Jackson, which means they will be comfortable running around with Marquette's guards. I also think Xavier will be comfortable playing against that Syracuse zone, and it's not because the Musketeers are a good jump-shooting team (the zone is designed to clamp down on threes). Rather, I like Xavier because it takes good care of the basketball (11.9 turnovers pre game). If the Orange aren't getting steals for transition layups, their offense can be stagnant. I also like teams that have a high-scoring guard who can break down defenses at the end of the shot clock, and Holloway, who averages 20.2 points and 5.5 assists per game, fits that mold to a T. He's not as good as Stephen Curry, but he'll evoke comparisons as he leads the Musketeers on a "surprise" run to the Elite Eight.

• Ohio State was my pick to win the national championship all the way up until Sunday morning. I had my epiphany while watching highlights of Kansas' win over Texas while I was working out on an elliptical machine. The Buckeyes are obviously an excellent team but I just don't believe they can get to that top shelf in the closet the way Kansas can. That said, the biggest reason to pick Ohio State to win the title is that they are the least likely of the main contenders to lose a game they shouldn't. They are talented, disciplined, experienced and smart. That's why they're my choice to win the East.

Kyrie Irving may return against Hampton
This could change a lot of brackets!
DURHAM, N.C. -- Injured Duke point guard Kyrie Irving could return for the Blue Devils' NCAA tournament opener, coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday night.
Krzyzewski said Irving practiced "a little bit" with the team Tuesday, but he won't know for a few days whether the freshman will be available for the top-seeded Blue Devils' West Regional opener against 16th-seeded Hampton on Friday in Charlotte.
"There is a chance that he would play," Krzyzewski said.
The coach added that if Irving does come back, he won't start, would see only limited minutes and wouldn't be on the court for extended periods of time.
"You don't want to get where he gets hurt and hurts something else because you extend him past" his limits, Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils will hold their pre-NCAA tournament open practice Thursday at the arena in Charlotte, and "we'll know a heck of a lot more by then," Krzyzewski said.
Irving, a playmaking point guard with a quick first step, was the leader of Duke's uptempo attack -- and the team's leading scorer with an average of 17.4 points -- when he injured the big toe on his right foot in a win against Butler on Dec. 4.
Not long after that, Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils were prepared to play the rest of the season without him. Irving spent nearly two months in a hard cast to keep the toe immobilized, and his right foot was in a boot after that.
Speculation about his status intensified during the past week. Irving performed on-court drills in shorts and sneakers with the Blue Devils' training staff before their ACC quarterfinal against Maryland, switching to street clothes for the game.
Then after Duke's title-game victory, Irving said there was a chance he could return sometime during the tournament. Krzyzewski later said that was a long way off and downplayed the comments as a young player getting caught up in the emotion of missing out on a championship.
"I'm going day by day, because I never expected him to be where he's at today," Krzyzewski said. "This is like uncharted waters."
Both Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils insist Irving's possible return wouldn't threaten the chemistry developed over the past three months without him. Duke (30-4) went 22-4 in his absence, rolling to a third straight ACC tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
"All the guys, if he's able to play, would welcome him back," Krzyzewski said. "He's been the best guy ever on a sideline with his teammates. It'd be different if he wasn't that way. I think that would be a smooth transition, and if we're fortunate enough to win, and he's able to play, then you get more accustomed to it."
Said forward Kyle Singler: "Personally, I don't think he's missed a beat. ... He just fits in."
Irving's injury forced senior Nolan Smith to shift to the point and help make up for his absence at both ends of the court.
After a rough first game in that role, Smith responded. He not only became Duke's leading scorer, but he led the ACC in scoring. Smith finished the season with at least 15 points in 22 straight games and 24 of 25 overall. Along the way, he flirted with the conference lead in assists and claimed two of the ACC's top awards: player of the year and MVP of the tournament.
Irving's possible return would take some pressure off Smith, who might not have to guard the opposing team's primary ballhandler quite as often.
"If [Irving] does happen to come back and play, I think it would be very easy for him to fit right in and help us win games," Smith said. "He's obviously that talented. He wants to be part of winning, more than anything. If he gets back on the court with us, we'll just keep on rolling."

Grady Sizemore (knee) shows progress
How many times have we heard this?
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Grady Sizemore passed another running test and might be in the Cleveland Indians' lineup by Sunday.
Sizemore ran the bases for the second time in three days Tuesday, 10 months after having microfracture surgery on his left knee.
"If everything goes well, and it has been going extremely well, we're looking at the 20th for Grady," manager Manny Acta said after the Indians beat the Milwaukee Brewers 9-7.
"I watched him going after fly balls and it was very impressive," Acta said. "He was running, going after them."
Sizemore hurt his knee in an exhibition game April 1 last year. He played in 33 regular-season games before re-aggravating the injury while sliding. He went on the disabled list May 19 and had surgery June 4.
The three-time American League All-Star also missed the last part of the 2009 season following surgery on his left elbow.

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