Saturday, March 12, 2011

NCAA Wrestling Bracketology Analysis

This is a very simple analysis, but I have looked at the brackets for the upcoming 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships and analyzed the teams based on their seeding within the brackets of each weight classification.

I'm not predicting this will be the top seven in order, but I believe these seven teams have the best chance for winning the national title.  They are Oklahoma State, Boise State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Rutgers, Cornell and Iowa.  I looked at the number of wrestlers that each school is bringing to Philadelphia and the road that each must take in their weight class.  From there, I predicted how many points each wrestler would score, taking into account the possibility of them earning bonus points for major decisions and pins. 

Here are the results of that analysis:

1.  Cornell 77 points
2.  Iowa 75
3.  Penn State 73
4.  Oklahoma State 71
5.  Boise State 64
6.  Oklahoma 62
7.  Rutgers 58

Cornell has #11 Frank Perrelli.  His big test will come in the second round against #6 seed Nicholas Bedelyon of Kent.  Cornell's chances will improve dramatically if he can pull the upset.  If not, Perrelli will likely drop down to eventually face either #8 Jarrod Patterson of Oklahoma, #9 Jonathon Morrison of Oklahoma State or possibly Boise State's Alan Bartelli.

Boise State:  Bartelli could really help the Bronco cause if he can sneak past Patterson in the opening round.  He has been wrestling well in the second half of the season.  With Kirk Smith hobbled and his success very much in doubt, the unranked wrestlers on the Bronco team must step up for him--that's what teammates do.  But if he loses to Patterson, that isn't going to hurt Boise State's chances.  He simply drops down to wrestlebacks and it is there that he needs to win a couple matches.

Iowa:  One of the Hawkeye's best shots in the Championships is #2 Matt McDonough.  This guy is a pining machine with 13 of them this year.  He has a good bracket with #7 Ryan Mango of Stanford his toughest opponent into the quarters.  I see McDonough advancing to the championship match and have based the point system above on that.  If he falters, Iowa could slip to #5.

Rutgers is represented by Joseph Langel.  Langel could meet up with Bartelli in consolation--that match would be more critical for Boise State than it would be for Rutgers, but if Langel wins, the Scarlet Knights make a move upwards.

Penn State's Brad Pataky is unranked and faces #12 Jarrod Garnett of Virginia Tech.  More than likely, Pataky will face Oregon State's Jason Lara.  If Pataky can win a couple of matches, the Nittany Lions will make a charge.

Oklahoma:  Patterson is a good hope for All-America status.  He likely won't get by #1 Anthony Robles, so the match against #5 Zachary Sanders of Minnesota or #4 James Nicholson of Old Dominion will be huge for Oklahoma's chances.

Oklahoma State:  The Cowboys pin their hopes here on #9 Jonathon Morrison.  If he can advance to the quarters, he very likely gets All-America status and gives his team a real shot.

Boise State:  Andrew Hochstrasser is the #2 seed and his toughest opponent will likely be #7 Bernard Futrell of Illinois into the quarterfinals.  "Hoch" is as reliable a wrestler as Boise State has.  He is a hammer once he gets a takedown and doesn't get himself into trouble often.  If Boise State is to reach top five, Hochstrasser pretty much has to reach the championship round.  To get there, he might meet up with Penn State's Andrew Long and that is a must-win match in the team race.

Penn State:  Long has a fairly easy path to the semifinals.  If he doesn't make it, Penn State likely drops to #5.  I will say that Long has come out tentative in the first round.  Jordan Thome or David Thorn are scrappy wrestlers who could pull off the upset if Long isn't ready.  On the other hand, if he can beat Hochstrasser, PSU has a real shot at the national championship.

Oklahoma State:  #1 seed Jordan Oliver downed Hochstrasser in the final match of the regular season and also beat him earlier in the year.  He could get a bit of a challenge from #9 Devin Carter of Virginia Tech or #8 Mike Grey or Cornell but if he can get by them, I see him advancing to the final.  If Oliver is upset and has to drop to wrestlebacks, that would open the door for Boise State to pass them in the standings.  Don't see that happening here.

Cornell:  Grey has an interesting first-round match with Oregon State's Garrett Drucker, a known quantity to Boise State fans.  Grey has been out much of the season with injuries.  The match with Carter would be for the upper hand as to which has the best chance to reach All-America status.  If Grey loses there, he very likely would face #4 Tyler Graff of Wisconsin.  That's a tough go but an opportunity for Cornell to pick up more team points.  Because he hasn't wrestled much this year, I think Grey loses to either Drucker or Carter.  

Oklahoma:  Unseeded Jordan Keller goes for the Sooners at 133.  He will likely face #6 Tony Ramos of Iowa in the first round but I see Keller advancing to the second round of consolation.  Here's a good indicator of the team race:  If Keller loses twice before that point, Boise State has a good chance of finishing in the top five.  If he upsets either Grey or Carter to get to the consolation quarterfinals, Oklahoma is a serious challenger to the Broncos.

Iowa:  Ramos has a pigtails match to get to Keller but should advance to a match against Long that would have important ramifications for both Penn State and Iowa.  Ramos earned a 3-2 win over Long earlier this season but he has a much tougher road to the quarters.  Since I have those two teams neck-and-neck, a win would be huge, especially for Iowa.  But I see Long getting redemption.

Boise State:  This is one of the key weights for the Broncos in one of the toughest weights to predict.  Levi Jones was ranked all season long but is unseeded here.  I find it interesting the powers that be put him against a Cornell wrestler in the pigtail match.  They know that Jones is a key to Boise State's team hopes and that a win by Hicks Manson would cement Cornell's chances for the title.  Jones has to be aggressive here because Manson is good enough to beat him if it gets to the late round or overtime.  Jones cannot let that happen.  A very dangerous first match but you can't treat it like that; Jones has to go all out.  If he wins, he could meet up with Cal Poly's #3 seed Boris Navachkov and that would be a great opportunity not only for Jones but for Boise State.  Levi probably needs a minimum of three victories for Boise State to have a serious shot at the title and at least two for the Broncos to get to the top five.

Oklahoma:  #8 seed Zack Bailey is in the bracket opposite Jones.  He should advance to a meeting with top seed Kellen Russell of Michigan.  Barring an upset he then drops to the wrestleback where could face either #4 seed James Kennedy of Illinois or #5 Montell Marion of Iowa.  The latter match of course would have influence on the team race.  

Iowa:  Montell Marion is the #5 seed here, who looks to have a fairly easy path to the quarters.  If he can get by #4 seed James Kennedy of Illinois, Iowa stands a great chance of winning the team title.  If not, Marion drops to likely face Bailey in the consolation quarters.

Cornell:  Hicks Manson goes against Levi Jones and a great opportunity.  Usually a match like this wouldn't happen until later in the tournament.  If Manson wins, it would not bode well for the Broncos but would make the Big Red an overwhelming favorite for the title.  I have Manson winning a couple of matches in consolation.  How Manson does could be the difference between first and third.

Penn State:  Andrew Alton is the #6 seed.  He should advance to the quarters against Novachkov of Cal Poly.  A win there would really boost Penn State's chances.  Otherwise, he could go against Pitt's Tyler Nauman, a match that could go either way.

Oklahoma State:  Joshua Kindig is one of the few unranked wrestlers for the Cowboys; he'll face off against Nauman in the opening round.  That's a match that OSU is looking to in order to boost their title hopes.  I have Kindig advancing to the consolation semifinals.

Rutgers:  Trevor Melda, another unranked wrestler, will face Missouri's #10 seed Todd Schavrien.  An important match in the team race looms in consolation between Melda and Kindig if they both lose.  

Oklahoma State:   #5 Jamaal Parks secured a high seed with his win over Chamberlain.  He had begun building momentum late in the season and I suppose the home crowd made Chamberlain ripe for the picking.  Parks should coast into the quarterfinals.  That's where another match important to the title comes up--Parks of Oklahoma State vs. #4 seed Kyle Dake.  I have Dake winning, but a win by Parks would have the effect of making it a four-way virtual tie for first.  

Cornell:  Dake faces Donnie Corby of Central Michigan in the opening round.  If both Dake and Parks win, the victor of that match would likely get #1 seed Darrion Caldwell.  Cornell has a good team margin largely based on Dake reaching the semis.

Oklahoma:  Matt Lester has a pigtail match with Scott Sakaguchi of Oregon State.  In any case, Lester will likely get bumped by #3 Kevin LeValley of Bucknell, in which case he could meet up with Coulthurst Schmitt of Wisconsin.  Should he get by there, Lester would face either Jason Chamberlain of Boise State or #11 seed Andrew Nadhir of Northwestern.  I don't think Lester would get past that match.

Boise State:  Jason Chamberlain lost his #2 seed when he fell in the match with Oklahoma State.  Obviously he has the talent to reach the semis, but he's going to have to be aggressive.  Chamberlain is fast on his feet and gets stronger as the competition goes on.  In an event like the NCAA's, Chamberlain will be full of energy while his opponent is worn down.  Pitt's Dane Johnson isn't the easiest of opponents and presents a special challenge in the opening round.  If he is able to get by there, Chamberlain gets his shot against #3 LeValley.  That's a make or break match for him and for Boise State.  I have him winning that, so if he doesn't, Boise State's team score goes down.  If he gets in the semi, it likely would be against Penn State's #2-seed Frank Molinaro and that's another great opportunity for Chamberlain to shake up the team scores.  If Jason falls to consolation in the quarters or the semi's, he could face Oklahoma State's #5 seed Jamaal Parks in a rematch that would occur in the consolation semifinals or the third-place match.  I'm sure Chamberlain would like nothing better.

Rutgers:  #7 Mario Mason goes for the Scarlet Knights.  He faces an interesting match vs. Brian Stephens of Virginia Tech.  If he can get by there, I have him going against Bradley of Missouri (an upset pick).  In any case, Mason should get to the quarters for a match with Molinaro of Penn State.  That may be biting off a bit too much, but a match with Boise State's Chamberlain in consolation would be a tough match that provides a great opportunity for Rutgers to catch the Broncos in the team race.

Penn State:  Molinaro is the two-seed here and I don't see any problem for him getting to the championship match.  If he slips up, it gives teams behind the Nittany Lions, namely Oklahoma State and Boise State, a chance to move up.  If Chamberlain is on his game, he could potentially meet up with Molinaro in the semifinal match.

Boise State:  The powers that be believe Adam Hall is Boise State's best chance for a national championship. Once again, they put a Cornell wrestler against one of Boise State's best (See Levi Jones above).  That may be his toughest match through to the semifinals.  #9 seed James Fleming is the highest-ranked wrestler in his side of the bracket but I see Meagher as a tougher test.  If Adam can survive his first three, he could meet Jesse Dong of Virginia Tech in the semifinal.  I think Hall needs to put away Dong early or he could get beat.  #2 Steve Fittery of American represents the top threat in the lower half of the bracket, although Penn State's David Taylor will have something to say about that.

Penn State:  I have Taylor beating Fittery to reach the championship match.  Taylor has posted five falls, an incredible nine technical falls and four major decisions in his last 19 matches so he's a big point-scorer for Penn State.  En route, he will likely wrestle Iowa's #6 Derek St. John in a Big 10 championship rematch.  Fittery has some tough matches even to reach the quarterfinals while I think Taylor's route is easier.  

Cornell:  DJ Meagher has the opportunity of a lifetime going against Hall in the opening round.  The Cornell program is strong, and that's an awful tough first match.  If Hall wins, I see Meagher doing well in consolation, perhaps advancing to a match with Dong.

Oklahoma:  The Sooners put up Chase Nelson in this classification.  He takes on #8 seed Jason Welch of Northwestern.  If Nelson goes into the wrestleback, he likely would face Meagher for the right to meet #6 Derek St. John of Iowa or #11 seed Walter Peppelman of Harvard.

Iowa:  St. John has a pretty good bracket up to the quarterfinal match, where he likely would take on Taylor of Penn State.  I've tried to indicate the matches that have a significant bearing on the team race and this would be another.  St. John did get a takedown in his match with Taylor but it was after Taylor initiate the action.  If Taylor wins, we see Penn State pretty much finishing as indicated, but a win by St. John would give the Hawkeyes an excellent chance to pull off yet another national title.

Rutgers:  Daryl Cocozzo is the 10th seed, and I have him defeating Bryan Deutsch after the pigtail match.  From there, the road shows #7 Bryce Saddoris of Navy and then Fittery.  Cocozzo very well could reach the semi's here and this is probably one of Rutgers' best chances to buck the odds and finish in the top five.  Obviously Boise State fans are going to want Fittery to prevail.  If Cocozzo goes to consolation, he would likely take on St. John or Taylor.  


Cornell:  The Big Red actually benefits in the team race by not having a lot of highly-ranked wrestlers.  Why on earth would I say that?  Because the team points are allocated by expectations.  If you have three highly-ranked wrestlers, as Boise State does, the expectations are high for those wrestlers.  And, there's not a whole lot of upside.  If you are #1 or #2, there's only one way to go.  But if you are #9, as Justin Kerber is here, you're going to score some points but the potential exists for a much greater return.  The flip side is that if you slip up and lose one, it's not going to kill your team chances.  Kerber will likely go against Rutgers' Scott Winston in another key match for the team race.  Winston beat him in the conference championships.  And there you have more potential points if Kerber can get the upset.  As it is, he likely would face either #5 Colt Sponseller of Ohio State or #4 Josh Asper of Maryland in consolation.

Rutgers:  Winston's route to All-American likely will go through Kerber one way or the other.  Winston faces Michigan's Dan Yates in the opener before he gets his shot at Kerber.   I have Winston advancing to the quarters against the #1 seed, Jordan Burroughs of Nebraska.

Boise State:  OK, here is where Boise State gets a shot at potential points.  Swartz is unranked and not expected to score huge points.  If the Broncos are to make a serious run at the top five, here is one of their best chances.  I think Kurt should have gotten an easier first match but such is the way it is.  He meets #4 seed Asper.  If he doesn't emerge victorious, Kurt shouldn't get too down for his real opportunity is in the wrestlebacks.  He needs to beat Thomas Scotton first-off.  The second match in consolation would be the most critical to boost Boise State's chances.  He would face either #7 Shane Onufer of Wyoming or Missouri's #10 seed Zach Toal.  A win there likely puts him against Buffalo's John-Martin Cannon, another unranked wrestler.  

Oklahoma:  The Sooners have high hopes for #3 seed Tyler Caldwell, who likely will meet up with #6 seed Dallas Bailey of Oklahoma State in a grudge match scheduled for the quarterfinal.  #2 seed Andrew Howe is the top seed in the lower half of the bracket that stands in the way of a berth in the championship match.  

Oklahoma State:  The match referred to above presents the Cowboys with a great opportunity for increased points.  You have a familiar opponent, one you have gotten to know over the years.  A Bailey win really boosts OSU's chances of a team title.  If Bailey has to go to consolation, he would likely face Wyoming's Shane Onufer and the winner there is one match away from All-America status.

Iowa:  Aaron Janssen is the 11th-seed here for the Hawkeyes; he'll go against Peter Yates of Virginia Tech in the opening round.  Janssen will get a crack at Bailey before Caldwell will.  If Janssen goes to wrestlebacks, he has a fairly easy path to the round of 16, where he would have to take on either #4 Asper of Maryland or #5 Sponseller of Ohio State.

Iowa:  Ethen Lofthouse gets the #9 seed here, and will face either Rob Morrison of Rider or Dorian Henderson of Missouri in the opening round.  Lofthouse could be a real factor here for Iowa if he can get by #8 Mike Letts of Maryland.  He could advance to a quarterfinal rivalry match against #1 Jonathan Reader of Iowa State.  A trip to consolation could pit him against Ohio State's Nick Heflin.

Oklahoma State:  #12 Mike Benefiel has a great shot here to pick up some additional points for the Cowboys.  A very winnable match looms against #5 Christopher Henrich of Virginia in the second round, and #4 Colby Covington of Oregon State would await that winner.  If Benefiel loses to Henrich, he very well could go against Boise State's Jacob Swartz.  

Boise State:  The motto in Philadelphia may be "As the Swartz brothers go, so go the Broncos."  With Kirk Smith not even close to 100%, someone has to pick up the slack.  And Boise State's best opportunity may rest with the Swartz brothers.  Jacob goes against Matt Fullowan and if he can win that, a rematch with Covington.  No matter what happens, Jake is going to get a shot at redemption either against Covington or against Benefiel, who beat him 4-3.  Boise State is still reeling from the Stillwater disaster, and this would be a good shot at payback.  The younger Swartz needs a couple of wins for Boise State to be a serious factor.

Cornell:  #3 Mack Lewnes will be counted on to get the job done for Cornell to take home the title.  I don't see any real problem for him until the semifinal with #2 Edward Ruth of Penn State.  There you have another important match for the team title--more pressure perhaps on Penn State because a win by Lewnes would make it tough for anyone to catch Big Red.

Rutgers:  Alex Caruso is unranked at 174, and he gets a real chance at additional points by facing #6 Ben Bennett in the opening round.  Even if he can't get that done, he should win a couple to get him to a match with #8 Mike Letts of Maryland or Lofthouse of Iowa.

Penn State:  #2 Edward Ruth sits at the bottom of the bracket.  He should easily get to the quarters but we all know what a challenge Stanford's Nick Amuchastegui would present in that match.  Besides pulling for a Pac-10 teammate, an Amuchastegui win would really help Boise State's cause in the team race.

Boise State:  This is the moment of truth for the Broncos.  I can't believe Coach Greg Randall seriously would let Kirk Smith risk a devastating injury if he wasn't close to 100%.  And yet we all know he isn't.  I'm sure Kirk wants to wrestle, but competing in the national championships isn't exactly the best way to heal a leg.  Maybe the goal is just to see if he can get a win or two to help the team cause but......  Smith dropped all the way from #1 in the country to the #11 seed, and while that's probably fair given his condition, it also means he has to wrestle a better wrestler in the opening round.  Diego Bencomo of Duke is that opening opponent and I doubt if Diego is going to treat Smith with kid gloves.  Bencomo was the runner-up in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year.  If Kirk loses the first round, does he then forfeit the rest of his matches as he did in the WAC Championships?  We'll find out.  If, however, he can get by Bencomo, he meets #6 Ryan Loder of UNI.  The thought I had when looking at this bracket is there is Smith, who was favored to go all the way this year, and now all those higher seeded wrestlers are there and he could beat them all if he were healthy. Not only that, but he's the most experienced wrestler and the only senior in the top 20.  I'm only giving Smith 1 1/2 points for wins.  If he can somehow summon more, he helps Boise State.  More important, he has to wrestle aggressively to avoid further injury.  At this point, when he's there in Philadelphia, he's got to "let it all hang out".

Oklahoma State:  #7 Chris Perry (23-5) is the wrestler who injured Smith, I think largely because he rode him for the entire period.  He probably benefits most from Smith's injury, not only getting a higher seed but also set up to go against him in the semis if both wrestlers get that far.  Perry would first face Nebraska's #10 seed Josh Ihnen.  Interesting how many of these NCAA matchups are rematches of conference finals.  

Penn State:  Quentin Wright is the #9 seed here seems to have trouble with Minnesota's Kevin Steinhaus.  Steinhaus won a 10-1 major but Wright came back for a 4-3 decision in the Big 10 championship.  #1 Christopher Honeycutt of Edinboro awaits in the quarters.  Joe LeBlanc is a solid wrestler from Wyoming that, should he wind up in consolation, may face Wright.  I see Wright's best chance of scoring points by losing to Steinhaus, because he could get further in wrestlebacks than he would if he had to come back from a loss to Honeycutt and then take on LeBlanc.

Oklahoma:  Erich Schmidtke is unranked and will meet Max Thomusseit of Pittsburgh in the first round.  If he can prevail there, he would have to face #4 Travis Rutt of Wisconsin and that is where his dream would die.  If Schmidtke does go to consolation fairly early, he would meet #12 Grant Gambrall of Iowa in another match important to the team race and a great opportunity for Schmidtke and the Sooners.  Schmidtke scored a shocking 11-3 major over Oklahoma State's Perry earlier this year so he has great potential.

Iowa:  Gambrall has a pigtail match against Corey Peltier of Maryland and then faces Austin Trotman of Appalachian State.  Gambrall then would face LeBlanc of Wyoming, and that sets up a possible match with Schmditke.

Cornell:  Sophomore Steve Bosak is the 3-seed at 184 and another wrestler that must come through for Cornell to win the title.  He faces NIU's Brad Dieckhaus in the opening round and may meet Arizona State's Jake Meredith in the second round.  A win there would put him against either Boise State's Smith or Oklahoma State's Perry, either of which would have important team score ramifications.

Rutgers:  The Scarlet Knights get a lot of team points despite having several unranked or lower-seeded wrestlers and here's another--Daniel Rinaldi.  Rinaldi sits in the lower half of the bracket against Ohio State's Cody Magrum.  #2 Robert Hamlin of Lehigh is in his half of the bracket, but Rinaldi does have some chances in the lower half against Mike Larson of Missouri and Nebraska's Josh Ihnen.

Boise State:  Matt Casperson wrestled well in the second half of the season.  He's got to feel good about getting the invite and could be a difference-maker for the Broncos.  Casperson has battled major injuries and were he 100%, I would expect him to do quite well.  Again, Casperson represents those "potential points".  He may or may not win his match against #7 Thomusseit of Pittsburgh.  If he can, #10 Logan Brown of Purdue would be next.  But, seeing as how Oklahoma State's Clayton Foster (the #2 seed) is a possible quarterfinal opponent, Casperson could do most of his damage in the wrestlebacks.  Possible opponents there are Shawn Fendone of Edinboro, Nikolas Brown of Chattanooga and Brent Haynes of Missouri.  All of those are unranked and for Boise State to have a good shot at the top five, I feel Matt has to win at least three matches.

Cornell:  Cam Simaz is the #1 seed in this classification and gets Ryan Smith of Cal Poly in the first round.  Simaz should emerge from that and reach the semifinals Friday night.  I believe his opponent there will be Iowa's Luke Lofthouse, who was underrated in this seeding.  I don't think Simaz will disappoint his team's chances--he'll score points no matter what.

Iowa:  Lofthouse, as mentioned, is probably too low here at #5.  He faces two Pac-10 opponents in a row in Riley of Orozco of Bakersfield and #12 Zack Giesen.  Go Pac-10, right?  But realistically, I see him knocking off both and then toppling #4 Dustin Kilgore of Kent to set up the aforementioned match with Simaz.  That would assure him All-America status and after that, who knows?

Oklahoma State:  The seven teams with the best chance at winning the title are the least represented at 197 than any other class.  There are just four of them with wrestlers in the 197 division.  Foster goes against Arizona State's Luke Macchiaroli in the opening round and should reach the championship round.  A stumble would strike a severe blow to the Cowboys' championship hopes.  

If the race for the team title is still up in the air, six of the seven top teams have wrestlers entered in the heavyweight classification.  In other words, if Cornell hasn't already wrapped up the team title by now, they aren't going to win it.

Oklahoma State:  Blake Rosholt meets David Marone of Virginia Tech in the opening round, with the winner getting #1 Zachery Rey of Lehigh.  In consolation, Rosholt could face either #8 Anthony Nelson of Minnesota or #9 Cameron Wade of Penn State and that latter match may very well decide if Oklahoma State has a good chance at the team title.

Penn State:  Wade will take on the winner of the pigtail between Jeremy Johnson of Ohio and Oregon State's Clayton Jack.  It probably won't happen, but I see Jack as having a chance here, which obviously would help Boise State's team chances.  If Wade gets past that match, he would likely meet Nelson for the right to face Rey in the quarters.  

Boise State:  J.T. Felix is one of the unsung heroes of the Boise State squad.  Few probably expected him to get here, but his performance at the Pac-10's earned him a shot.  Felix will take on #5 seed Dominque Bradley of Missouri.  Like several of the Broncos, Felix's real chance to help the team is not in his first match but on consolation.  He is supposed to lose to Bradley, but Felix could get the team a couple of valuable wins if he can knock off Hofstra's Paul Snyder and Indiana's Ricardo Alcala.

Oklahoma:  Nathan Fernandez draws the 10th-seed at heavyweight and will take on Peter Sturgeon in the opening round.  Fernandez would then meet up with Iowa's Blake Rasing in a crucial match with the winner getting Central Michigan's Jarod Trice, the #2 seed.  

Iowa:  Blake Rasing has earned the #7 seed and should meet up with Trice.  If he goes to consolation, he would face either #8 Anthony Nelson of Minnesota or #9 Cameron Wade of Penn State, and the latter could help decide final team positioning.  

Rutgers:  Dominick Russo III gets the #4 seed and Levi Cooper of Arizona State in the opening round.  I don't see Russo having a problem until perhaps quarters, when he would likely meet Bradley of Missouri.  Russo is one of Rutger's best shots at a championship.

Watch this blog in the days to come.  I will give a round-by-round projection of how each team should be doing so we can keep track of their progress.

Utah State Draws Close to Broncos in WAC Commissioner's Cup

Utah State has used a men's basketball championship and third-place finish in women's basketball to draw within 3/4's of a point in the race for the Western Athletic Conference Commissioner's Cup.

The Cup is given annually to the school with the top overall sports department.  Boise State is currently #1, but Utah State's strength in basketball has pulled them closer.  Utah State has a chance to do something they have never done--finish at #2.  They'll have to fight off Fresno State and Hawai'i to finish there.

Utah State held off Boise State 77-69 last night to win the WAC basketball title.  In the women's championship game, Louisiana Tech erased a 76-71 deficit to Fresno State in the final 18 seconds only to see the Bulldogs hit a layup as time expired for the 78-76 win and automatic NCAA berth.

So here are the current standings:

1.  Boise State 58.50
2.  Utah State 57.75
3.  New Mexico State 42.25
4.  Fresno 41.00
5.  Idaho 40.50
6.  Nevada 38.50
7.  Hawai'i 37.00
8.  Louisiana Tech 33.00
9.  San Jose State 25.50

Lady Broncos Blank Santa Clara Again 5-0

Aubray Zell allowed one hit and struck out five in four innings of work as Boise State shut out Santa Clara for the second consecutive game.  The Broncos beat their Santa Clara namesakes last night 7-0 in California.

Allie Crump continued her torrid batting with a leadoff homer to straight-away center to get Boise State started in the second.  Devon Bridges walked and after an out was replaced on the basepaths by Vanessa Alvarez who reached on a fielder's choice.  Yurek doubled her home and Mackenzie Whyte drove in Yurek with a single to center to make it 3-0, Boise State. 

Dependable Holly Bourke began things in the third with a single and after a Tazz Weatherly liner to third, stole second.  Crump was hit by a pitch and Bridges walked to load the bases.  Kelly Sweeney's grounder scored Bourke and Alvarez singled to drive in Bridges with the final run.

Freshman Morgan Barnes got in some valuable innings and Lela Work wrapped up for her fourth save of the season.  Boise State faces UC Davis at 4:30 this afternoon.

2011 WAC Basketball Championship Preview: Boise State Vs. Utah State

Tonight's Western Athletic Conference basketball championship between 17th-ranked Utah State and Boise State pits the two hottest teams in the league.  One thing is for sure--the WAC will send a representative to the Big Dance that is playing its best basketball of the year.

Boise State is making news with its longest winning streak since Bobby Dye was head coach (eight games), but Utah State has won its last seven after a stumble against Idaho.  The Aggies are third in the nation in wins behind only Kansas and San Diego State (31 each), while USU is one of five teams with three or fewer losses (San Diego State and Kansas are both 31-2, Ohio State is 30-2 and Brigham Young is 30-3).

Senior Tai Wesley (the WAC Player of the Year) averages 14.5 points and 8 rebounds per game.  He is definitely the leader on the team and part of a senior class that has gone 109-27 in Logan.  Wesley shoots 58.4% from the field and 71.5% from the free-throw line.  Boise State will have to put a couple of bodies on him the way they did against New Mexico State's Troy Gillenwater. 

Transfer Brokeith Pane, however, has perhaps been the key to the Aggies' success.  Pane is averaging 11.4 points and 3.4 assists and is especially adept at feeding open teammates under the basket in traffic.  Pane, like most of the Aggie players, can burn you from the free-throw line (78.6%).  Brady Jardine is the other forward, averaging 7.7 points and 7.1 rebounds.  What Wesley doesn't clean off the boards, Jardine will.  He also is shooting at a 54.2% clip.  The guards are Brian Green (10.6 ppg) and Pooh Williams (8.6).  Green is a long-range bomber that presents Boise State with considerable problems should they double Wesley.  Green is money from three-point range, shooting an unbelievable 46.5%, and he is also a 73.6% free-throw shooter.  Williams, although not a prolific scorer, is the team's best free-thrw shooter at 81.5%.

So stopping the Aggies is tough.  You cannot let Wesley continue to pile up points inside.  Boise State really does not have the tough inside presence to deal with him.  And should they double him, as hinted above, you risk giving up three with Green.  Any double-teaming will have to be carefully planned so as not to leave Green (with his three-point shooting), Pane (with his inside passing) or Jardine (who will be ready for a dunk underneath the basket) open.  That leaves Pooh Williams and if Utah State does their spacing properly, Williams will spot up on the side opposite Wesley so he can practically drive for a layup.

Utah State's defense can stymie the best basketball teams.  Coach Stew Morrill's strategy is for his team to collapse inside the key.  The Aggies essentially dare you to shoot the three-ball.  If you're hot, you have a chance, but if you're not it's going to be a rout.  In the first game between Utah State and Boise State this season, the Aggies jumped out to a 15-2 lead en route to a 77-49 blowout.  USU finished the game hitting 64% of its shots and the #17 team in the nation simply isn't going to lose when they do that.  They also held La'Shard Anderson scoreless.  That fact alone indicates the Broncos will do much better than game one; even the most diehard Aggie fan would concede that Anderson will get his points tonight.  Just how many and how well Anderson is able to get his mates involved will be the story of the game.

If you think it's easy to beat Utah State, you weren't watching the other WAC semifinal game against San Jose State.  The Spartans played well but still lost by four.  In that game, Utah State shot just 37% from the field and was out-rebounded.  Utah State rarely shoots that bad and rarely gets beaten on the boards.  They did and still won.  One of the keys to victory was that the Aggies held Adrian Oliver, the nation's third-leading scorer at 24.6 points a game, to 16 points and 6-of-19 shooting.  Oliver's teammates were able to do more, but not enough to win.

Clearly, Boise State has more offensive weapons than the Spartans.  And they will all need to be at the top of their game if they have a prayer of pulling off the upset.  As I said in this blog last night, Anderson wont be able to have free reins up and down the court against Utah State as he did last night.  If he heads into the key, he will find three or four Aggies to meet him.  He can dish to teammates, but more often than not those open teammates will be 20 feet from the basket instead of two. 

So Jeff Eloriaga, Paul Noonan and Robert Arnold will have to be launching highly-accurate bombs for Boise State to be effective.  And the Broncos will have to take excellent care of the basketball.  In the Logan meeting, the Aggies swiped nine balls from the usually protective Broncos.  Boise State doesn't have to win the battle of the boards, but it must be close.  And on the Wesley double-teams, the Bronco guards will have to cover Green and the other three-point shooters and Arnold, Daequon Montreal and Ryan Watkins will have to know where their men are inside.

When you have two teams as hot as Boise State and Utah State meeting in the conference championship, you're almost assured a good game.  The excitement begins at 8 p.m. Mountain Time tonight and will be televised live on ESPN2.

Rough Second Day for Kurt Felix

As Blue Through and Through hinted at yesterday, Kurt Felix was not going to finish in the top eight in the heptathlon at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in College Station, Texas, even though he was second going into today.  That is because he needed to own a substantial lead going into today to even finish in the top eight.  Three of his worst events were scheduled for today.
Felix was riding high until finishing third in the high jump, an event he was expected to thoroughly dominate.  That set him back 150 points heading into the final three events today.  The first competition of the today is in the books, and instead of 16th place (where he was seeded), Felix was able to take 14th in the 60-meter hurdles.  However, he slipped in his projected point total, running a slower time than he did at the Western Athletic Conference Championships.  He'll need to break career marks in both the pole vault and 1,000-meter run to finish in the top eight.

60-meter hurdles:
1.  MantasSilkauskas   1033
2.  David Klech    1012
3.  Miller Moss   997
4.  Gray Horn   952
5.  Jeremy Taiwo   947
6.  Romain Martin   935
7.  Moritz Cleve   930
8.  Bjorn Barrefors   927
9.  Mateo Sossah    920
10.  Jepheth Cato   915
11.  Lars Rise   903
11.  Michael Morrison   903
13.  Curtis Beach   879
14.  Kurt Felix    848
15.  Kevin Lazas   848
DNS   Wesley Bray, who apparently is out of the competition.

And now the pole vault is complete--Felix was 15th or last out of the remaining competitors.  His dreams of All-America status are over.  That is unless he can run the 1,000-meters in under 2:25.
Pole Vault:
1.  Cato   972
2.  Morrison   941
3.  Moss   880
3.  Martin   880
5.  Barrefors   849
5.  Lazas    849
7.  Cleve   819
7.  Horn   819
7.  Sossah   819
7.  Rise   819
11.  Beach 760
12.  Silkauskas   702
13.  Taiwo   673
13.  Klech   673
13.  Felix   673

The results are now also complete in the 1,000 and here are the final results.  Compare them to the projections made last night to see how close they were.

1,000-meter run:
1.  Beach   990
2.  Klech   963
3.  Taiwo   937
4.  Sosah   901
5.  Cleve  896
6.  Horn   874
7.  Rise   863
8.  Morrison   855
9.  Felix   841
10.  Martin  840
11.  Moss   817
12.  Lazas  770
13.  Barrefors  760
14.  Silkauskas   740
Cato  644

Final Total:
1.  Moss      5,973
2.  Horn    5,910
3.  Martin    5,897
4.  Morrison  5,872
5.  Silkauskas  5,832
6.  Klech    5,831
7.  Taiwo     5,780
8.  Barrefors   5, 779
9.  Rise       5,771
10.  Cleve    5,722
11.  Felix    5,680
12.  Sossah     5,647
13.  Beach     5,637
14.  Lazas     5,595
15.  Cato      5,363
16.  Bray      2,994
Just for fun, I'll leave the projected finish unchanged so you can see how my original predictions fare.

Projected Finish:
1.  Moss      5,963 points
2.  Horn    5,885 points
3.  Barrefors   5,882 points
4.  Morrison  5,877 points
5.  Rise       5,862 points
6.  Martin    5,849 points
7.  Taiwo     5,836 points
8.  Silkauskas  5,812 points
9.  Klech    5,737 points
10.  Cleve    5,712 points
11.  Lazas     5,632 points
12.  Sossah     5,628 points
13.  Beach     5,626 points
14.  Felix    5,623 points
15.  Cato      5,510 points
16.  Bray      2,994

Boise State Tennis Team Hosts #39 BYU

In the past, Boise State has been the high-flying tennis team, piling up win after win and challenging the top teams in the nation.  Now it is BYU which is ranked #39 and moving up the national rankings.

The Broncos will get a chance to observe the Cougars' talent up close this afternoon when BYU comes to town.  Hopefully the Boise State players are taking notes that they can use to improve their games the rest of the season.  The match is set for 2 p.m. this afternoon at the Appleton Center.

Boise State Softball Team Roars to Eighth Straight Win

While the eighth straight victory of the men's basketball team is getting all the national attention, the Boise State softball team notched its eighth straight as well last night with a 7-0 shutout of Santa Clara on the road.

Allie Crump struck out 10 and went 2-3 at the plate to lead the Broncos to the win.  She allowed just two hits and one walk on the way to her seventh victory of the year against three defeats and pushing her career wins total to 30.  Lela Work came in to finish up, retiring all three batters in the seventh.  Holly Bourke banged out four hits while freshman Devon Bridges extended her hitting streak to eight with a 2-4 night including four RBI's.

The two teams meet again at noon Mountain Time, with Boise State also facing UC Davis this afternoon.