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One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.


Final Four predictions

No sense in changing my pick now. I had Florida to repeat as champ when the NCAA tournament began two weeks ago, and I've got the Gators to win now. They're in for a stiff test against UCLA, a rematch of last year's title game. The Bruins play some of the best defense in the country and have one of college basketball's best players in Arron Afflalo, but Florida is too deep inside with Joakim Noah and Al Horford playing at such a high level.

Georgetown impressed me with its unbelievable length after seeing the Hoyas up close in the second round. Jeff Green plays so under control and Pat Ewing Jr. has improved so much since his days at Indiana that it's hard to pick against the Hoyas. But I'm going to do just that, sticking with Ohio State (I had the Buckeyes losing to Florida in the finals in my colleague Dana Gauruder's pool) to advance.

The OSU-Georgetown game comes down to two things in my mind. One, can Mike Conley get penetration? Ty Lawson was largely ineffective last Sunday against the Hoyas, almost scared to go inside because of their tremendous size. Ohio State gets in trouble when it becomes too dependent on the 3-point shot, so Conley must stay aggressive. The second deciding factor will be foul trouble, specifically big men Greg Oden and Roy Hibbert's ability to stay out of it. On this stage, no official wants to become the story so Oden and Hibbert should get some leeway early. If either picks up a cheapie or two (and my money says Hibbert does) that's a plus for the other team.

Four more prognostications for the week ahead:
1. Michigan will come to terms with its next basketball coach by tip-off Monday, but won't introduce Tommy Amaker's successor (sure smells like John Beilein) until Wednesday.

2. Former Birmingham Detroit Country Day star Alex Legion won't be pleased with the choice and will beg out of his letter-of-intent and eventually sign with ... Florida, which will lose its entire starting five (plus recruit Alex Tyus) once Billy Donovan bolts for Kentucky.

3. Donovan will accept the Kentucky job next week for a whopping annual salary of $5 million a year. Quickly, the Wildcats return to their perch as kings of the SEC.

4. Rumored Kentucky candidate Tom Izzo has his contract tweaked to include a slight bump in guaranteed money (say $2.25 million with another $750,000 in bonuses) and the go-ahead to finish his Breslin Center locker room project in time for next basketball season.


Izzo and Kentucky

There's been a lot of speculation recently on how Tubby Smith leaving Kentucky might affect Tom Izzo and Michigan State.

As I reported Tuesday — and to the best of my knowledge this still remains fact — there has been no contact between Izzo, his representatives and officials from Kentucky. That's not to say there won't be. The Final Four, where Izzo is headed today, is a swap meet for coaches angling for jobs and universities angling for coaches. It's no secret there are some Kentucky supporters who like and respect Izzo and have for some time, and according to reports out of Lexington the university is willing to pay NBA money (or better) to its next coach. Most people assume that cash will go to Florida's Billy Donovan, a former Kentucky assistant, but if he wins a second straight national championship he might be hard to pry away from Gatorville.

That's when things could get interesting for MSU. In my heart of hearts I don't believe Izzo will or wants to leave a program he's built into the Big Ten's best, one with a serious chance at winning a championship in the coming seasons, to take over a Kentucky team thin on talent but long on tradition and expectation. To be sure, those things wouldn't scare Izzo off. He's a driven man who has succeeded under some less than ideal circumstances and as hard as he works I don't doubt he'd succeed at Kentucky, too. At the very least, he'd owe it to himself and his family to listen (everyone would) because the money, perks and everything else could just be too life-altering to pass up.

At the end of the day though, as I blogged before, I think Izzo will be right back in East Lansing next year, coaching a high-seeded tournament team, making more money than he makes now. And just so everyone's clear on that, Izzo is deservedly one of the highest-paid coaches in the country right now. He makes about $2.7 million annually, with a base salary of $320,000 and supplemental income of $1.01 million that are adjusted annually for inflation, another $300,000 in additional compensation, and a $1 million bonus paid every July for the next three years. As always, his seven-year roll-over deal will be reviewed in the coming weeks, and no one should be the least bit surprised to see it tweaked up near the $3-million mark or some of that annual bonus made part of the guaranteed deal.


Walking the line

Jeff Green walked on the game-winning shot he made in Georgetown's Elite Eight win over Vanderbilt Friday, no question about it. He pivoted, stepped, slid and whirled, but wasn't called for the walk because no official wanted to make that call on the biggest stage. Too bad, because by ignoring it Vandy got bounced from the tournament and Green and the Hoyas are moving on.

Their stay won't be long, though. I watched both Georgetown and North Carolina in Winston-Salem last week and I came away thinking the Hoyas could win. They control tempo, and they've got a long front line that will make things difficult for Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright. I've changed my mind though and I'm going back to my original pre-tournament pick of North Carolina. Ty Lawson is too good in transition, Georgetown's backcourt is a little suspect, and the way Wright played Friday, catching and scoring in traffic, I can see why everyone expects him to be the third overall pick in the NBA draft. I've got Carolina, 72-68, in their Elite Eight showdown tomorrow.

My other Final Four picks are: Florida over Oregon (too much inside from Florida), Memphis over Ohio State in a mild upset (the Buckeyes have been living too close to the edge for me), and UCLA over Kansas in the weekend's best game. I know the Bruins are a little suspect inside and Kansas has as much talent as any team in the tournament, but UCLA plays such good defense and in a virtual home game in San Jose, I'm taking the two seed.


Chalk talk

Thanks to Greg Oden's fantastic block, I hit on three of my first four Elite Eight picks yesterday. I don't think today's games will top yesterday's action, but I'll be glued to my TV nonetheless.

Florida is still my pick to win it all, and I think they beat Butler fairly handily in the early game in the Midwest. The other game in St. Louis is a little more interesting, and while I wouldn't put it past UNLV and the Kruger Clan to pull the upset, my gut tells me Oregon is moving on.

In the East, I'm staying with the favorites in both games. North Carolina is too good in transition for USC, but get used to the Trojans on this stage with Tim Floyd coaching and blue-chip recruits O.J. Mayo and Brandon Jennings heading to Troy each of the next two years. The Tar Heels will get a much-anticipated showdown with Georgetown in the Elite Eight, though Vanderbilt is tricky enough to give the Hoyas fits.

One last note to consider during tonight's action. Oregon gets big contributions from Detroit natives in Malik Hairston and Tajuan Porter. What do you think would have been of Tommy Amaker had he kept both those players at in state? What if you add Florida's Al Horford, Memphis' Chris Douglas-Roberts and Tennessee's Ramar Smith to the mix? That's five Michigan natives playing big roles in the Sweet 16 for other teams. Give Michigan that lineup and the Wolverines' NCAA drought is over and Amaker still has a job. If I'm Bill Martin, I might actually look at Memphis coach and master recruiter John Calipari, despite the backage he brings.


Michigan misses the boat

Great move by Minnesota to hire Kentucky's Tubby Smith as its new basketball coach Thursday. Smith is a proven winner and solid recruiter who immediately makes the Gophers relevant again. Michigan fans asking, 'Why not Ann Arbor?' should be flaming mad their university didn't step up and offer Smith a deal on par with the $1.8 million he'll reportedly make in Minnesota. Granted, the Gophers have new basketball facilities on the way and Michigan would have had to make similar concessions to lure a top-notch coach like Smith, but it would have been worth it.

I'm on the Lon Kruger-to-Michigan bandwagon - he's another proven winner with Midwest ties and wouldn't command a king's ransom to leave UNLV - but regardless it's imperative the Wolverines make a bold hire in their next coach. If they settle for a no-name or tease fans with another up-and-comer, you can take it to mean the university has accepted its mediocre lot in the world of college hoops. Kruger, Villanova's Jay Wright, Marquette's Tom Crean and Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie all would fit the mold.

It'll be interesting to see how the dominoes fall now that Smith is out at Kentucky, too. The university has always held Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in high regard, and while I don't think he'd go to Lexington without an NBA-sized contract, I do expect the Wildcats to at least inquire. Crean and Memphis' John Calipari are more likely candidates, and you might as well throw Louisville coach Rick Pitino's name in the mix, too.

A quick guess on the way things shake out: MSU hands Izzo another pay raise to keep him happy, Crean gets the Kentucky job, and when Izzo retires or heads to the NBA in a few years Jim Boylen takes over the Spartan program after guiding whatever school he ends up at — Utah? Marquette? — to a tournament or two. Michigan, meanwhile, keeps its cash in football and drives its once-proud basketball program further into the ground.

Last thing before I go, a few picks for tonight's NCAA games. In the West, Kansas survives Southern Illinois and UCLA smokes Pitt, and in the South A&M topples Memphis to set up a great Elite Eight showdown with Ohio State.

Running man

Interesting to hear the news last week that Michigan's Carlos Brown, once a highly touted running back prospect, has switched to cornerback. Two things I think we can all garner from that slice of info: One, Michigan's secondary, the weak spot of last year's defense, is still a mess, and someone from the group of Brown, converted receiver Doug Dutch and incoming freshman Donovan Warren will start at corner next year. Brown is a heck of an athlete and I think will make a fine cover man one day. He's 6-foot, physical at 200 pounds, and this is his quickest way to the field.

Which brings me to the second morsel of goodness: Brandon Minor will be a star. Minor rushed for a modest 238 yards in 11 games last year, but showed enough promise that he surpassed fumble-prone Kevin Grady as the odds-on favorite to replace Mike Hart once he leaves for the NFL. Brown wasn't going to pass Minor (and probably not Grady, who has no other position) this spring, and with several blue-chip recruits in the pipeline it was a no-risk move. Mike Hart is a legitimate Heisman candidate this year, a potential 1,600-yard rusher, but don't sleep on Minor who might be the best second-string tailback in the Big Ten.


'08 could be great for MSU

A few quick thoughts before I pack up and leave Winston-Salem after Michigan State's 81-67 loss to North Carolina:

The game wasn't as much a blowout as the score would indicate. The Spartans played the Tar Heels neck and neck for the first 34 minutes, then ran out of gas as too much foul trouble and too little depth finally took its toll. Tyler Hansbrough was a beast with 33 points, but Ty Lawson is the jet that makes UNC go. He gets to the lane as good as any point guard in the nation. His penetration led to a lot of Hansbrough baskets, a lot of Spartan fouls and a lot of second-chance opportunities for North Carolina, which outrebounded MSU 40-27.

The visitor's locker room at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum was a sniffly one Saturday, but MSU has nothing to be ashamed of in its season. The Spartans accomplished more than just about anyone thought they would by winning 23 games and advancing to the second round of the tournament.

Expect MSU to be ranked in the top 10 to start next year. The Spartans return their entire team (unless someone like Maurice Joseph or Idong Ibok decides to transfer), and they'll welcome four new players who will see immediate playing time. Redshirting freshman Tom Herzog will be MSU's No. 4 big man behind Drew Naymick, Goran Suton and Marquise Gray, who played his best basketball in March. And three incoming freshmen will help in the backcourt, where it was the Drew Neitzel-Travis Walton show all year. Neitzel played 38 minutes Saturday and Walton would have played the same if not for foul trouble.

I know it's early to talk about next year, but with a regional at Ford Field the Spartans could hold the same homecourt advantage North Carolina enjoyed Saturday. If that happens, MSU has as good a shot as anyone at the national title.


Amaker's replacement

Can't say I was the least bit shocked when I heard earlier this afternoon that Michigan fired coach Tommy Amaker. Amaker inherited a mess when he took over for Brian Ellerbe six seasons ago, but he underachieved in never leading the Wolverines to the NCAA tournament. This year, Michigan finished 22-13 and lost in the second round of the NIT despite having one of the most veteran teams in the big six conferences.

I was asked on the radio the other day whether Marquette coach Tom Crean was a possible Amaker replacement. I said the university would be wise to pursue him, but it's an extreme longshot he would come to Michigan. Crean's got a great situation at Marquette, and the Wolverines would have to pony up a lot of money — and make a lot of promises of upgrading the program — to lure him away. I don't see that happening.

A few more realistic names to consider are Butler coach Todd Lickliter, who led the Bulldogs to a five seed this year and previously served two seasons as an assistant at Eastern Michigan; UNLV coach Lon Kruger, who spent four seasons at Illinois before jumping to the NBA in 2000; and Washington State coach Tony Bennett, who says he's committed to the Cougars but could be lured back to the Midwest near his Wisconsin roots. All three are solid X and O guys who might be able to rejuvenate one of college basketball's best brand names.

Bennett and Lickliter would seem to have the most to lose by leaving — Washington State has only three seniors on its roster and Butler returns junior guards A.J. Graves and Mike Green, while UNLV graduates four starters — and whoever takes over will have a sales job to do to keep Michigan's current talent on board. Rumors were rampant during the season that Ekpe Udoh was looking to transfer, and as a courtesy Michigan will have to let recruits Manny Harris and Alex Legion out of their letters of intent if they wish. Regardless, the decision to go in a different direction was best for the program and all parties involved.


ID'ing a loss?

Don't underestimate what the loss of Idong Ibok means to Michigan State's second-round NCAA tournament hopes against North Carolina.

Ibok dislocated his left elbow in an ugly spill Thursday and is out for the season. He was a bit player who saw five to 10 minutes off the bench in most Big Ten games, but at 6-foot-11 and with a 7-5 wingspan he would have a valuable commodity Saturday against UNC grinder Tyler Hansbrough.

Drew Naymick, MSU's best interior defender, will open on Hansbrough, but he's fouled out of the last two games. Keeping him on the floor Saturday is imperative because neither Goran Suton nor Marquise Gray is as adept in the post, and the Jake Hannon experiment won't work like it did against Marquette.

For the most part, Naymick successfully avoided foul trouble in two games against Ohio State's Greg Oden. Hansbrough is nowhere near the physical presence Oden is, but the two are very different players. Oden has a crafty jump hook he's not afraid to use with either hand; Hansbrough seeks contact inside.

MSU has other matchup problems, too. North Carolina forward Brandan Wright, a projected top-five pick in next year's draft, is a tough guard for anyone, Raymar Morgan will have his hands full with Reyshawn Terry on the wing, and Ty Lawson gives UNC's offense that extra gear. Throw in a decided home-court advantage for the Tar Heels, who are playing just over an hour from their Chapel Hill campus, and all signs point to a second-round exit for the Spartans.


Fifteen minutes til tip

It doesn't look like Jerel McNeal will be playing for Marquette tonight, so I'll stick with my original prediction that MSU wins a defensive game by five or six points. McNeal is dressed, but he's spent most of the pregame standing under Marquette's basket with his injured right thumb heavily bandaged.

If the Big East Defensive Player of the Year was a full go, even at slightly less than 100 percent, I'd take the Golden Eagles because of their athleticism in the backcourt. But no McNeal means no big matchup problem for Raymar Morgan and a hair more breathing room for Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton.

Predicted final score: MSU 65, Marquette 60.

Your tourney fix

Next to my anniversary, birthday and Christmas, the opening Thursday and Friday of the NCAA tournament are my favorite days of the year. Thirty-two games and close to 24 hours of wall-to-wall, do-or-die basketball is enough to satisfy even the most veracious hoops junkie. In fact, I'll wait til later this afternoon to head over to the LJVM Coliseum, where Michigan State plays its opening-round game against Marquette, so I can watch as much action on TV as possible.

My pick to win it all is Florida, but it wouldn't surprise me if North Carolina, Georgetown, Ohio State, Kansas or UCLA walked away with the crown. Beyond that, my one semi off-the-board Final Four pick is Texas A&M, a three seed in the South. George Washington, the 11 in the East, is my lowest seeded Sweet 16 team. If you're looking for a super sleeper in the Final Four, why not Duke in the West? I don't think the Blue Devils are particularly good, but they got a manageable draw with the one seed (Kansas) most likely to flame out, an overrated 3 in Pitt and a 2 in UCLA that struggles to defend the post. The Bruins might shred Greg Paulus, but Josh McRoberts might have a field day inside, too.

A couple last housekeeping items. The selection committee missed the boat with a couple matchups. Indiana's a 7 and Texas Tech's a 10, but the committee chickened out by not pitting Bob Knight against his former team. Ohio State's a 1 and Texas is an underseeded 4, but they're in different regions so we may never see Greg Oden vs. Kevin Durant. That still could happen in the Final Four. If it does, we might be looking at the most hyped game since Bird and Magic played in '79.

I'll check back in to wax about the Michigan State-Marquette matchup later, but enjoy the games.


Freaky Friday

A day of conference tournament upsets will cost some team an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but it shouldn't cost Michigan State.

MSU squandered one last chance to impress the selection committee with a loss to Wisconsin in Friday's Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. But the Spartans still have a resume that compares favorably with other bubble teams. Not many of their contemporaries have more wins over potential protected seeds (Wisconsin, Texas and BYU), few if any have played stronger schedules, and most have a bad loss or two, which MSU successfully avoided in the regular season.

They'll still be a few nervous moments come Sunday. Mississippi State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State moved closer to at-large bids with upsets Friday, and the nail-biting will increase if Memphis loses to Houston in the Conference USA final or if North Carolina State goes on to win the ACC tournament. But as it stands the Spartans are still on their way to the tournament.


Comeback trail

Twenty-nine minutes into the game, Drew Neitzel finally got in the scoring
column. Neitzel just made two free throws, his first points of the game, to
pull MSU within five in what's turning out to be a pretty good quarterfinal
game. The Spartans trail 45-40 and have outscored Wisconsin 19-9 so far in
the second half. Raymar Morgan and Goran Suton have carried the scoring so
far for MSU, while Alando Tucker leads Wisconsin despite hitting his first
field goal - a 3-pointer from the right wing - just two minutes before
Neitzel's foul shots.

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Playing catchup

Lost in Flowers' defensive performance is the shut-down job Michigan State is throwing at Alando Tucker. The Big Ten Player of the Year, Tucker has just three points and has yet to make a field goal. Neitzel still hasn't scored for MSU, but the Spartans are starting to get their offense going. They've scored the first seven points of the second half and have cut Wisconsin's lead to 36-28 with 15:55 remaining.

A case for Flowers

Tom Izzo calls Travis Walton the best defensive guard in the Big Ten, but Wisconsin's Michael Flowers sure is making a case for that mantra tonight. With 3:39 left in the first half, Flowers has held MSU's Drew Neitzel scoreless with stifling pressure. Neitzel can't buy an inch - he's only attempted two shots - and MSU is down 29-17.

The United Center is close to capacity, by the way. There's a ton of fans here for the late Illinois-Indiana game, but also a pretty partisan Wisconsin crowd. Madison is well represented.

MSU down 18-11 early

MSU has settled down a bit after falling behind 10-0 to start. Goran Suton is getting points at will in the post, but Drew Neitzel hasn't found any breathing room yet and Raymar Morgan is on the bench with two fouls. It's early yet, but I've got to ask: Can I retract yesterday's prediction?

Four games til New York

My guess is Michigan hosts its first NIT game next Tuesday or Wednesday. No, the Wolverines' Big Ten tournament quarterfinal isn't over yet, but Ohio State leads by 10 with 3:55 to play and Greg Oden is dominating both ends of the floor. Michigan's seniors are still playing freshmen, struggling from the floor and committing costly mistakes. Take the Wolverines off the tournament bubble.

Last chance?

After falling behind 12 early in the second half, Michigan pulled within 46-41 on an 8-1 run. Still, it's got to be troubling if you're a Michigan fan that seniors Courtney Sims and Dion Harris have combined for only 10 points on 2-of-16 shooting. Their careers are close to ending without ever making an NCAA appearance. The final 11 minutes will decide their fate.

Halftime at the UC

It's halftime and Michigan is still hanging in there. Considering the turnover problems (nine already) and Dion Harris' cold shooting (1-for-8), Tommy Amaker can't be too disappointed with his team's 34-29 deficit.

The key to a comeback is twofold. First, the Wolverines have to free Harris up for some open looks. He's had two good shots this half, and he made one. Secondly, where's the defense? Ohio State is shooting 54 percent from the floor, shooting down Courtney Sims' assertation yesterday that every team struggles shooting at the United Center. Michigan's hanging tough because of a 21-8 rebounding edge. Something tells me Thad Matta will correct that.

Early foul trouble for Sims

Not a terrible start for Michigan, but Courtney Sims just picked up his second foul less than six minutes into the game trying to stop a Matt Terwilliger putback. Can't do that when you're playing against Greg Oden. Sims is on the bench now, and Oden should be checking back in any minute. The Buckeyes are up 13-8, looking crisp on offense and doing a good job on Dion Harris on defense. Michigan, on the other hand, has one shot clock violation and six turnovers.

Friday morning mischief

Back out here at the United Center for Day 2 of the Big Ten tournament and four big-implication games. The late session is must-see TV with plenty of bad blood between Michigan State-Wisconsin and Illinois-Indiana. The early session has two play-out games, where Michigan needs a win over Ohio State to be considered for a bid. Ditto for Purdue versus Iowa.

I'll be here all day glogging again - that's in-game blogging for the one or two of you less Internet savvy than me. First, a few Birkett bubble thoughts:

As unimpressive as Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois were in their wins yesterday, at least they got through. The same can't be said for half of the nation's other bubble teams. West Virginia, Alabama, Clemson and UMass were among Thursday's big losers. All will be sweating come selection Sunday.

I haven't been buying the Air Force or Butler hype for a while. Most bracketologists think those teams are still locks, but I can't understand why. Air Force finished third in the Mountain West, has lost a couple bad games (at Utah and TCU) and hasn't been playing particularly well of late. Butler peaked in December, and I'm not even talking about Tuesday's loss to Wright State. The Horizon League is mediocre, and while I don't expect any team to go undefeated in league play four losses is a lot to stomach in an RPI conference ranked a notch below Conference USA. Both teams will make the tourney, but I'm not sure either will win a game.

Lastly, it's a bit confusing to me that Duke is still considered such a lock with an 8-8 conference record, a 4-6 mark in its last 10 games, few great wins (Georgetown and a season sweep of Boston College are the best) and a Thursday loss to North Carolina State. Colleague Steve Grinczel and I were talking the other day that Duke's resume sounds an awful lot like Michigan State's, and most considered the Spartans just shy of a lock before Thursday's win over Northwestern. Funny to think MSU and Duke, two of the nation's premier programs, could meet in the first round.

Day 1: It's a wrap

The opening round of the Big Ten tournament is in the books and both Michigan and Michigan State remain in play for NCAA bids.

MSU, by all guestimations, locked up a tourney spot with Thursday's 62-57 win over Northwestern. It wasn't pretty, and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi actually bumped MSU down a seed (to a 10) in his latest bracket, but there are no bad losses on the resume and enough other good things (a murderous schedule, plus wins over BYU, Wisconsin and Texas) to earn the Spartans an invite. Friday's quarterfinal rematch with the Badgers still is for seeding. If they lose, expect an 8, 9 or 10 seed Sunday night. If they win, a 6, 7 or 8 is more likely.

Michigan is on the outside looking in for now and needs to beat Ohio State today to have a case for inclusion. The Wolverines are clearly behind Illinois and Purdue in the pecking order, but unlike fellow bubble teams like Clemson and Missouri State still can play their way in.

It'll be interesting to see how the committee views some of Thursday's big losers. Georgia Tech and Duke fell in the ACC tournament, West Virginia lost a double-overtime nipper to Louisville, Alabama got bounced from the SEC playoffs and Syracuse lost to Notre Dame. All those teams left Michigan with a ray of hope, now it's up to the Wolverines to capitalize.


MSU-Northwestern update

Got a barn-burner developing here in Chicago. After leading by as many as 16 early, MSU is up just 47-43 with 8:20 to play. The Spartans are having problems matching up with Northwestern's small lineup and haven't scored in over three minutes against the Wildcats zone. If they correct the defensive lapses, they still should win by double digits.

MSU up 10 on Northwestern early

It's only midway through the first half, but what a difference a game makes. The United Center is starting to fill up, and Drew Neitzel is on fire for MSU. He's got 12 points in the first 12 minutes, and the Spartans lead 21-11. Beating Northwestern won't prove a lot to the selection committee, but it will get the Spartans in the tournament.

Lock it up

Lock this one up for the Wolverines. Spencer Tollackson just missed two free throws for the Gophers, who are 9-of-17 from the line for the game. With 1:12 to play, Michigan leads 48-38. It wasn't pretty, but it's in the books (just about).

Check back during the Michigan State game. After all my Michigan interviews are over I'll be back to update you on that one, too.

Stay tuned

Michigan led by 15 points eight minutes ago, but in typical fashion let their mildly interested opponent back in the ballgame. With 3:06 remaining, they lead just 45-37. No one is playing particularly well for the Wolverines - Dion Harris has 14 points, but on 3-of-10 shooting - but Michigan does have a 39-28 rebound advantage.

Do my eyes deceive me

We've had a virtual offensive explosion to start the second half, with Michigan taking a 31-21 lead at the 15:46 mark. Still, this has to be one of the least impressive performances - especially with so much on the line - Michigan has had all year. If you're a Wolverine fan, be happy they drew one of the 10 worst major-conference teams in America today.

Good D, bad O?

Good defense or bad offense? That was clearly less of the former and more of the latter in the first half. Michigan leads 20-16 at the break, but if the Wolverines are an NCAA team I'm Superman.

Michigan is 7-of-23 from the field and Dion Harris' late 3-pointer was their only basket of the final four minutes. Minnesota scored a matching one bucket after the 4:17 mark and missed the front end of two one-and-ones.

The few brave souls who showed up for this game on time should demand a refund.

Mid first half update

Historically teams have not shot well in their game at the United Center and today is no different. Dan Coleman's 6-foot bank shot off an in-bounds play is the longest field goal either team has made. Minnesota is 3-for-13; Michigan 3-for-12.

The Wolverines also have foul troubles mounting. Both Brent Petway and Courtney Sims have two fouls, and Ekpe Udoh one for the Wolverines, who need wins today and tomorrow to have any shot of advancing to the NCAA tournament.

Minnesota, by the way, leads 9-7 with 10:47 left in the half.

Michigan-Minnesota glog

Just realized there's a reason no one is here for this game: It's ugly. First TV timeout and the two teams have combined to shoot 1-of-12 from the field with five turnovers. Michigan leads a whopping 3-0.

Stay tuned all day. I'll be here for the Michigan and Michigan State games and will update you regularly on the action (at least when I'm not writing for the actual paper).

Sitting courtside

The Michigan-Minnesota game is about to start and there are literally a few thousand people here. The early Thursday game typically doesn't draw much, but it feels empty in the United Center. Plus, the crowds are always better in Indianapolis, where the tourney will move full-time next year.

Prediction time

I'm in Chicago, getting ready to head over to the United Center for the start of the Big Ten tournament, figure I ought to lay some predictions on the table before it's too late.

Let's start with today's games. Three teams have something to play for (Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois) and three teams do not (Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State). Gimme the first three to win. Illinois is the most vulnerable of the favorites because Penn State, despite the miserable year, is actually halfway decent. But the Illini are home in Chicago and a loss would cripple their NCAA hopes. I'm going chalk.

Quarterfinal Friday is looking like it could be a great day. To start at the top of the bracket, I'll go with Ohio State over Michigan to send the Wolverines back to the NIT. Ohio State is just too talented, Michigan too schizophrenic. Purdue-Iowa is an interesting 4-5 game. Steve Alford is feeling some heat at Iowa (again) while Purdue is staring the first NCAA berth of the Matt Painter era in the face. Iowa won big on its home floor two weeks ago, my guess is Purdue gets revenge. Got to have one upset in Round 2, so I'm going MSU over Wisconsin. Teams typically don't shoot well in their first game at the United Center, and the Spartans have made the Badgers too reliant on the 3-pointer in their two meetings. With the win, MSU improves its NCAA seeding to a six. The Illinois-Indiana nightcap, like the Purdue-Iowa game, is a complete toss up, but I'm going Indiana and that ferocious defense.

That same defense is good enough to get Indiana past a tired MSU team on Saturday and into the finals against Ohio State, which handles Purdue with ease. The Buckeyes lost the championship game to Iowa last year, but they didn't have Greg Oden or Mike Conley. That sensational duo is enough to send the Buckeyes to their first conference title since 2002 and lock up a No. 1 seed in the St. Louis regional.


Oh, Canada

The most productive college receiver in the state of Michigan last year was good enough at his pro day Monday to warrant some late-round consideration in April's NFL draft.

Eric Deslauriers - what, you thought I was talking about Mario Manningham? - ran a low 4.5-second 40-yard dash and turned in a 6.6-second three-cone drill that would have ranked among the best performances by a receiver at last month's combine, according to agent Glen Lansky.

Deslauriers, in case you don't know, is Eastern Michigan's all-time leading receiver. He caught 74 passes for 898 yards and five touchdowns last year, and at 6-foot-4 and 208 pounds could make somebody a good red-zone threat one day.

Only three NFL teams - Tampa Bay, Green Bay and Miami - stayed for the entire work out, which did not include passing drills because of the weather. Still, Deslauriers, an Ottawa native who's already been drafted by Montreal of the CFL, tested better than expected and was impressive enough in college that he should get a shot come draft day.


Tourney time

A couple thoughts on a great day of college basketball (can we all agree there's no time of year better than March Madness?):

First, good news for bubble teams (and yes, we'll include Michigan in the discussion just to be nice) that Winthrop won the Big South tournament and Butler survived an overtime scare in the Horizon League semifinals. At 28-4, Winthrop might have stolen an at-large bid had it lost to VMI Saturday, though with VMI's sub-.500 record who knows. Butler, likewise, is in the tournament regardless, even though it's struggled down the stretch.

My gut tells me Oklahoma State's ugly loss to Baylor will keep the Cowboys out of the dance barring  a miraculous Big 12 tournament run, Stanford is probably still in despite its home loss to Arizona, and Missouri State has reason to sweat after a 17-point loss to Creighton in the Missouri Valley semifinals.

As for Michigan, not a lot to say about the massive choke job against Ohio State. The eight seed in the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines probably need to win it all in Chicago to snap an NCAA-less streak that's a couple home meltdowns (OSU and Iowa) away from being over.

The rest of the Big Ten tourney field is set. Michigan and Minnesota open the first round at noon Thursday, followed by MSU-Northwestern in the 7-10 game and Illinois-Penn State in the nightcap. Iowa got the four seed and Purdue the five by virtue of the Big Ten's convoluted tie-breakers.

It's down to Purdue and Illinois to be the fifth tournament team from the Big Ten. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Indiana are in, and MSU is all but a lock (a loss Thursday could make it dicey). If Illinois beats Indiana in the quarterfinals - I'm assuming the Illini get past Penn State - and Purdue takes care of Iowa, there's no reason both teams shouldn't be in the 65.

Round 3 in Chicago?

If you're going to take anything from Michigan State's loss at Wisconsin today, know that MSU is the third best team in the Big Ten behind the Badgers and Ohio State. Their 8-8 conference record may not show it, but the Spartans are one of the few conference teams capable of going to the Sweet 16 because of Drew Neitzel and a stingy defense.

I think you can lock the Spartans in to an eight, nine or 10 seed if they win their first game of the Big Ten tournament Thursday in Chicago. Depending on the Michigan-Ohio State outcome, MSU will play either Penn State, Northwestern or Minnesota in the first round as either the seven or eight seed. That should be a victory, and if they slot into the 7-10 game they'll draw Wisconsin again at 5:40 p.m. Friday.

I'll go out on a limb and pick the Spartans to win the rubber match, not because they're a better team but rather they'll have played a game in the United Center and familiarity always seems to help in Friday games. If that happens, there's a good chance MSU can get a top-line seed. A six is probably too much to ask unless they reach the finals in Chicago, and 7-10 doesn't matter a whole lot. You're still matched with a one or two seed in the second round.

Michigan's got a huge game coming up here in a matter of minutes. I'm gonna hop on a treadmill and watch it before I head out to the Pistons-Grizzlies game tonight. Michigan has tons to play for - two more wins and I think the Wolverines are tourney-bound - and Ohio State not nearly as much (they'll win or lose a one seed in the conference tourney), but I'm still picking the Buckeyes, who are flat out a better team.

When the Big Ten tournament pairings are set later tonight, I'll revisit with some first-glance predictions for next weekend.