Watch with Wetzel

Dan Wetzel

Yahoo! Sports national columnist Dan Wetzel is following Thursday's games live from Detroit. Send him an email and join the conversation.

6:32 p.m.: Valued Reader Email of the day:

In Mexico ... beaches and bikinis ... awesome ... but no freakin' TVs. What is the deal with Wake?

Ollie and J Co
Playa del Carmen, Mexico

They advanced. It's all that matters.

For Thursday night, this column is heading home. I couldn't convince my boss to pay the full tab; seven hours is plenty.

Besides, you don't want to hear what I think after 12 hours in a bar.

6:28 p.m.: Parity. In the middle of this tournament – from the three-seeds to the 14s – there is almost no difference in talent level. It is all about execution.

Today's upsets and near-upsets don't deserve the title upset. It doesn't give credit to the ability of the players on the weak seeds. I can't imagine any high-seed team being upset that they had to squeak one out.

Maryland outlasted a great UTEP team. Syracuse outlasted a great BYU team. Wake Forest outlasted a great VCU team. Alabama outlasted a great Southern Illinois team.

These weren't upstarts getting hot from outside, or fluke teams with a solitary high-talent player. The are just really good teams.

Get ready for a wild, thrilling, exciting tournament. Throw your big-conference biases out the window. Everything is even. I think the one and two-seeds are better than everyone else. I think the 15s and 16s are weaker.

But after that, I wouldn't guarantee anything.

6:24 p.m.: Syracuse's win closer than most SU fans would have liked, but give the defending national champions credit. They played like champions in outlasting a terrific BYU team. And until they lose, they are still the champs. Give them that.

In addition, Gerry McNamara's 43-point, 9-of-13-from-3-point-range performance has to go down as one of the finest in NCAA tournament history. Not the finest, but awful good. That he capped it with two clutch free throws in the final minute is perfect.

We always talk about the need for guys to step up. Well McNamara stepped up and SU is still in it. The champs are still the champs.

6:18 p.m.: VCU really hurt itself with poor clock management (opposite of Alabama). Down two with 35 seconds left they let Wake run the clock down to 11.9 before realizing it was time to foul. Then Chris Paul hit two free throws and that was about it.

In the end, B.A. Walker's buzzer-beater cut Wake's lead to one (79-78) instead of giving VCU a great victory. This is the type of stuff that will haunt a coach and a team for a long, long time. What might have been?

Still a great game, one of many this afternoon.

5:27 p.m.: Gerry McNamara has gone nuts. Are you kidding me? The Orange would be cooked without him.

McNamara had an up-and-down season. Playing without Carmelo was obviously an adjustment. But this was one of the greatest high school players in Pennsylvania state history, and he is definitely a big game player.

Those six threes in the NCAA final last year were no fluke. If SU survives there'll be no question why. The kid is having a day for the ages. He's on pace for 48.

5:23 p.m.: The Wake-VCU game is a battle. Back and forth, two really good teams. As one of the readers noted earlier, this is what happens when a really good mid-major gets a high major on a neutral court.

The reality of college basketball is that the gap between high majors and low majors has narrowed.

Scholarship limitations, early defections to the pros and top high school recruits never showing up all have limited the talent level at big schools while mid-majors are unaffected since they rarely get great pro prospects. And the inability of big schools to stockpile talent means more good players are moving down the food chain.

The Manhattan-Florida game was a perfect example. If it weren't for the seeds you wouldn't be able to tell which team is the favorite.

The talent level was even between VCU and Wake. No question Michael Doles and Domonic Jones could play in the ACC.

4:54 p.m.: Dueling in-the-lane floaters decide the Bama-SIU game. Fantastic.

Nice late-game management by Gottfried, who uses the foul to give (a rarity in college hoops) to force a rushed buzzer shot by Darren Brooks that rims out. Brooks was 10 of 14 from the field at that point and if he had more than 2.8 seconds to shoot, the outcome may have been different.

Tide fans can stop wondering if Gottfried can coach. He just played a major role in getting UA past a very, very good opponent and into the second round.

MoreValued Reader Emails:

Twenty-two points in the first half? Do you think Jameer is out to prove something? Can the Hawks get past Texas Tech, who just made it to the second round? Is Billy Packer anti-small school for slighting Saint Joe's and Gonzaga? Or anti-Catholic school? Monday night on a Philly sports talk program he even took a poke at Notre Dame for being a big school that gets all the network coverage but failed to make the tournament.

Allentown, Pa.

I wouldn't go that far on Packer. He just watches too much ACC ball.

This is my first year in the working world where I can't watch the NCAA tournament and boy does it suck. You think being pulled away from an upset is rough. I'm stuck in a drab office building with co-workers who don't comprehend the importance of the tourney (amazing, I know). I took an exceptionally long lunch to watch some of the early games, but this afternoon has been a complete waste. I think I'm going to bee sick tomorrow.

Atlanta, Ga.

We are here for you.

I'm in Barcelona and trying to listen to the radio to some of the matches ... congrats on your nice articles. Now my question: Don't you think Jameer will be a big star soon in the NBA? Damn! He's scored 16 points just in the first 10 minutes of the game!

Barcelona, Spain

Yes, he'll be star. Glad we can help you all the way from Spain. But they're "games," not "matches." This isn't soccer.

I just watched Manhattan blow out Florida. As a fellow UMass alum I'm sure it pains you to think we decided to keep Lappas instead of going after Gonzalez. Or are [you someone] who thinks a team that loses eight of its last nine is "showing improvement"?

Tom Henson
Worcester, Mass.

The first time we lost to Duquesne it was by 26. The second time by only three. Sounds like improvement. One of these days we'll be good enough to even beat the Dukes. Dare to dream.

All Gonzo would have done is get us back into national contention and fill up the Mullins Center. Who needs that?

4:19 p.m.: Another one.

Manhattan beating Florida is hardly an upset. When majors are forced to play mid-majors on neutral floors, guys like Gonzalez get their day in the sun. But it is hardly an upset.

Chris Farley
Clifton Park, N.Y.

I agree. Manhattan was the far, far better team. Gonzalez is the better coach.

4:16 p.m.: 3:51 p.m. More Valued Reader Emails ...

Congratulations on capturing the spirit of the NCAA tournament; America's tournament. Your words are true and accurate, right to the core of the office I work in ... I am glad you did not speculate on in-state rivals pulling for each other ... some things are just not going to happen. For example, as a fan of Georgia Tech I cannot ever see myself cheering for the University of Georgia in any competitive event. Thanks for a great commentary.

David Brown
Hampton, Ga.

I Totally agree. Was watching earlier with a bunch of Michigan State fans (they convinced their wives/girlfriends they had to get out to watch the Spartan game even though it doesn't start until 7:35.) They were bitter Michigan beat Missouri in the NIT.

Sign outside Sassy Lounge: Closed for Off-Season.

Brian Ferraro


Typical protection of the big-conference teams ... obvious charging foul on Maryland (Strawberry) is instead called a block, and then an obvious jump ball becomes a foul. Just once, I'd like to see a school from the power conferences get hosed by the officials instead of the mid-majors.

Andrew Whearty
Ocean City, Md.

4:07 p.m.: VCU is giving Wake Forest a game and then some.

I like VCU if only because Jeff Capel is shoving it in everyone's face. When VCU hired the 27-year-old, every other coach in the game complained behind his back.

No question Capel was light on experience; everyone pointed to the Duke infatuation that athletic directors have. And there is some merit there. There are a lot of boneheaded Athletic directors who don't know anything about the game but hand out six-figure contracts because Mike Krzyzewski or Dean Smith called to recommend one of their guys. I swear the ADs figure they'll get to play in the golf outing or have a cookout over Coach K's house, so why not?

Anyway, a lot guys were passed over for Capel, who was the golden boy. I called Capel at the time and asked him about it. His answer was simple. "We'll see," he said. "We'll see."

We are seeing. Year Two of the Capel Era: VCU 37 Wake 34 in the NCAA tournament.

3:57 p.m.: Saint Joseph's is up big on Liberty. I know it is Liberty, but the Hawks look like they mean business.

Don't think for a minute that St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli didn't know exactly what he was doing by going so crazy over his team's critics this past week. It wasn't a fake anger. That is Martelli. He takes no crap from anyone and is very proud of his program.

His team is fired up right now.

Plus he had a point. St. Joe's deserved the No. 1 seed.

3:46 p.m.: Game over, Maryland wins. Great job by the Terps defending the final shot without fouling and withstanding a big, late-game run by my Miners.

Maryland is good. Gilchrist had 17. I thought fatigue from the ACC tournament would catch up with the Terrapins but now that they have one under their belt they are capable of a big run in this tournament. There isn't a hotter team in the country.

As for UTEP, I root for a team for the first time in years and they lose. But they played great, accounted themselves well. It's probably an NCAA violation but someone ought to buy them some Alice the Burrito lady when they get back to El Paso.

The scene at the end of the game with Maryland players picking fatigued Miners off the floor and consoling them is what college athletics is all about. Two classy teams. Nice game.

3:13 p.m.: No. 4 Wake Forest vs. No. 13 Virginia Commonwealth in Raleigh, N.C. Notable local residents and/or alums. Wake Forest: The incomparable Howard Cosell was from Winston-Salem. VCU: Arthur Ashe hailed from Richmond.

Pick: Wake Forest.

No. 1 Saint Joseph's vs. No. 16 Liberty in Buffalo, N.Y. Notable alums and/or local residents. St. Joe's: ex-coach Dr. Jack Ramsey. Liberty: Dr. Charles Brown, resident of Lynchburg, Va. invented Chap-Stick. (Honorable mention: Jack Daniels is from Lynchburg, Tenn.)

Pick: St. Joe's

3:07 p.m.: Meanwhile in the real world, Pakistani troops believe they have surrounded al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri. No word on Bin Laden. Get Jim Boeheim on the phone and put a nice 2-3 zone on that bastard. Get him and bring him to New York; we'd like to have a word with him.

2:46 p.m.: UTEP just hangs around and hangs around and hangs around the Terps. Sassy's Lounge is beside itself.

2:45 p.m.: Manhattan's upset of Florida was beyond impressive. This was no upset; this was a straight pummeling and all the credit should go to Jaspers coach Bobby Gonzalez and his hard-nosed kids.

Because of his live-wire personality, some people don't get Gonzo. But he can really coach. It was evident here. His players maximized their abilities and believed the entire game they were better than UF. And they were.

Florida had more talent. Manhattan had stronger willed-kids and the better coach. No upset.

2:24 p.m.: Valued Reader Email concerning my tongue-in-cheek choice of UTEP over Stanford as best academic reputation in the Phoenix Regional. This is good stuff:

Sure. Now make we El Pasoans angry with your sarcastic comment that UTEP is the best academic school in the Phoenix Regional. Haven't you heard, we are – in fact – "Harvard on the Border"?

Gary Munday
El Paso, Texas

2:07 p.m.: Memo to Matt Walsh: I can see where that haircut could work, sort of, If you were a really good player on a really good team. What would it matter, right?

But when Manhattan is kicking your ass and you are 0-for-5 from behind the arc it goes terribly wrong in a hurry.

1:58 p.m.: Charlotte is trying to fight its way back into the game with Texas Tech. Perhaps this could turn into a contest after all. What might help the 49ers is if coach bobby Lutz could get Curtis Withers to pull his headband up and away from his eyes.

Actually, I hesitate to call it a headband. It's either a blindfold or an eyebrow band. Never seen it worn like that.

1:53 p.m.: El Paso is (I believe) the largest city in America without a major professional sports franchise. If you add in Juarez, Mexico as its metropolitan region (over 2 million) then the statement definitely is true.

Because of its remote location out in West Texas and lack of wealth, not even Gary Bettman would put a pro team there. So UTEP hoops is the thing. The only thing. While there is passion about this tournament everywhere, I am not sure any team means more to its city than UTEP does to El Paso.

Put it this way: Not a lot of people are working today in the city. So I called my favorite bar down there – Sassy's Lounge downtown – to see what the mood was as the Miners went into the half down five. I love Sassy's because it is a blue-collar joint and even though I am only there once a year they remember my favorite drink the moment I walk in.

Wanda, the proprietor, could barely hear me over the din but said the city is fired up and everyone is cautiously optimistic. They love the move by Gillespie to go to the 2-1-2 zone and tighten the game. (They know hoops down there). Second half starts soon. If you are in El Paso and not drinking right now, there is cold beer on ice at Sassy's. Just a public service announcement for your friends here at Yahoo! Sports.

1:36 p.m.: Second half of the Manhattan-Florida game and the most impressive stat isn't the Jaspers five point lead or even Luis Flores' 10 points (you expect that). It is Peter Mulligan's 12 points.

Florida's frontcourt has been suspect all season against strong, athletic opponents, but now it is getting torn apart by a mid-major power forward. Taking nothing away from Mulligan, who is very tough. But for a SEC school that is not good.

1:30 p.m.: There is no cheering in the press box and it is rare that I care who wins a game. However, I am not in the press box so I am in the bag right now for UTEP over Maryland.

Nothing against Maryland. I respect the program, love the campus and one of the Terp assistants, Jimmy Pastos and I even attended the same high school in Boston.

But UTEP is my adopted team, mainly because of my respect for its former coach, Hall of Famer Don Haskins. This is actually the first year since 1997 I didn’t see the Miners play live at least once. Quite a feat since I live nowhere near West Texas.

Might be a coincidence this is their best season in a while.

What Billy Gillespie has done this season is amazing. This team won six games last year and when I watched them they were terrible. I mean terrible. This year with a talent infusion and a lot of confidence the team is back. And El Paso has gone nuts for the Miners.

I love the city of El Paso, which really doesn’t have a lot going for it, so it is nice to see the city has something to root for. The bars down there are undoubtedly packed, even though the game tipped at 10:40 a.m. local.

Anyway, I talked to Coach Haskins this morning and he reminded of what he has been saying all year. Guards Filiberto Rivera and Omar Thomas are as good as just about any two guards in the country.

After five minutes you don’t have to be a Hall of Famer to see that.

1:01 p.m.: Manhattan is going toe-to-toe with Florida. Not a surprise. They are New York-tough. Lots of seniors, lots of East Coast city kids with experience (especially from last year's NCAA game with Syracuse).

New York kids are not going to look at any uniform from the SEC and get scared.

12:39 p.m.: No. 4 Maryland v. No. 13 UTEP. Notable alums/locals. Maryland: Jayson Blair? No, didn't graduate. Go with Jim Henson (Muppets) or the clincher, Larry David (Seinfeld).

UTEP: Golfer Lee Tevino (El Paso native).

Pick: UTEP (I'll explain later)

12:17 p.m.: No. 5 Florida v. No. 12 Manhattan. Notable local residents, advantage, Florida (Gainesville): Bo Diddley over Tom Petty.

Manhattan (which is actually, go figure, located in the Bronx, N.Y.): Plenty to choose from, Jennifer Lopez, Billy Joel, Jack LaMotta, Calvin Klein, Fiorello H. LaGuardia (not to be confused with Vincent Laguardi Gambini who is from Brooklyn). But we'll go current and pick Colin Powell.

12:10 p.m. ET: No. 12 Manhattan vs. No. 5 Florida. First game of the day. A lot of comments about how similar UF coach Billy Donovan and Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez are.

The reality is they aren’t alike at all. This reminds me of how people say Rick Pitino and John Calipari are alike when they are almost polar opposites. It’s just they are both Italian.

Anyway, with Donovan and Gonzalez, yes both are from the state of New York (Donovan from Long Island, Gonzalez from Binghamton), both had Pitino as a mentor and both are fairly young, hard-working guys. Both are ambitious but they go about things differently.

Donovan is reserved, calculating, and never makes a move without thinking it through. Gonzo is all passion, all heart. Donovan doesn’t look like he has much fun, unless you count 45 minutes on a treadmill fun. He is fairly quiet even and very poised.

Gonzo is a walking, fast-talking circus who is always in a state of amusement. At least to everyone around him.

If only for the way he talks. The speed with which he spits out verbiage is amazing. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, exclamations and proclamations pour out. I can’t imagine being one of his players. When Gonzo got the Manhattan job I spent 24 hours with him for a story in Basketball Times.

We did some stuff in New York then drove to Boston to watch Celtics practice (Pitino was coach then). Gonzo never stopped talking, really never stopped explaining aspects of coaching. We were running late so he decided we’d stop for McDonald’s in Hartford to get a quick meal.

He explained the reasoning to me, like I had never been to a McDonald’s before.

“McDonald’s right here Danny,” he rattled off. “You know Big Mac, Chicken Nuggets. Stuff like that. Not the healthiest food. I don’t eat it too often, but you know when you’re in a rush, it’s a good place. It’ll be quick. They’ll just give it to us and we’ll eat.”

I can’t imagine Billy D ever saying something like that.

(As a side note, one of the purposes of the trip was Pitino’s wife, Joanne, had told Gonzo that Pitino had too many Armani suits (nice problem, huh?). Since they were the same size, the extra suits were his if he made the trip. Get him off to a good start and all in his coaching career.

When we got up there she didn’t have the Armani’s but Pitino heard about the plan and told Gonzo he’d do one better. He’d give him some Brioni suits – elite hand made Italian numbers that go for between three and five thousand a pop.

So if Gonzo looks good today, it might be courtesy of Pitino.)

Noon ET: I attend an NCAA subregional every year. It's a great time, even when you are working. But you miss everything else going on in the tournament. You miss the feel of the wall-to-wall action.

One second you are watching an upset in the making, then you get pulled away because a press conference is starting and you have to attend. Other times, you miss the entire game.

Sometimes it is actually better to watch on TV.

This year I scrapped the "Let's attend a subregional" plan and convinced my bosses that a better use of my time would be to sit and watch TV like everyone else – and write a running diary of the day.

I'd watch the games and comment. Watch the other customers – all of whom have miraculously recovered from the flu that made them call into work at 8 a.m. – and comment on that. Eat and drink, maybe go home and watch the late games from home. We'll see how it goes.

Innovative stuff, I told them. Newspapers can't do this. We can, I noted.

And they bought it. Hell, they even congratulated me on the idea.

So basically I am sitting in a sports bar in Royal Oak, Mich., on the company tab. So long as I jot some stuff down on the computer every so often, I'm a hero.

Work, it's a four-letter word.

Man, do I love America. And do I love the N-C-2-A men's basketball championship.

Lots of people have done diaries like this, but I don't know anyone that has done one live. There is no going back and changing predictions, rewriting jokes that didn't work and so on. So this actually is an experiment.

It may be good. It may be lousy.

But look, you get what you pay for and this site is free.

Either way, I'm here and you are where ever you are. New York, Kentucky, California, Bangladesh. (That's not a joke, you wouldn't believe all the people around the world who read this stuff.)

So we can kind of watch the tourney together. Without being too close. Check back a few times an hour and read. And use the feedback system to write in and complain, compliment and provide your own comments.

The more of the work you guys do for me, the better.