Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NCAA Tournament Preview: Picking the Jayhawks

ON BASKETBALL

I don't know if I've ever agonized more over a bracket. Because here's the thing -- I know there are going to be plenty of upsets. But where they'll happen? I got nothin'. So what is my scared, basketball-obsessed brain doing?

Yep, going with the favorites. As in all four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. This year, more than most, that simply won't happen. No way. But I can't know for sure which one, or two, or even three, won't get to Indianapolis. So I'm going with all of them.

And with that, my tournament picks:

MIDWEST

First round

1 Kansas def. 16 Lehigh: Love the Patriot League. In fact, I went to more than half of American's games this season. And I'm happy the AU Eagles don't have to face KU.
9 Northern Iowa def. 8 UNLV: Gotta love the experienced Missouri Valley team.
5 Michigan State def. 12 New Mexico State: Here's to thinking the good MSU shows up.
4 Maryland def. 13 Houston: Here's to thinking the good Maryland shows up.
11 San Diego State def. 6 Tennessee: He doesn't have a Fab Five, but Steve Fisher's forming a decent program in a beautiful city. Nice bounceback from the Michigan debacle.
3 Georgetown def. 14 Ohio: My high school classmate played for Ohio. Besides that, don't know much about the Bobcats ... except that they won't beat G'Town.
10 Georgia Tech def. 7 Oklahoma State: The Yellow Jackets are good when they're not throwing the ball out of bounds.
2 Ohio State def. 15 UC Santa Barbara: Let's see ... would I rather spend a March weekend in Milwaukee or Santa Barbara? Yep, the Gauchos won't mind heading home early.

Second round
1 Kansas def. 9 Northern Iowa: This will be a carbon copy of the Jayhawks' survival against Cornell. Fall down early, make big plays late.
5 Michigan State def. 4 Maryland: Ohh, this will be a fun one to watch. Izzo yelling. Gary sweating. And the more talented Spartans winning.
3 Georgetown def. 11 San Diego State: Georgetown is usually either really good or really mediocre. Thinkin' the really good outfit will show up for this one.
2 Ohio State def. 10 Georgia Tech: The Jackets' big men will create some problems for the Buckeyes, who will make up for the disadvantage with superior outside shooting. Threes beat twos.

Regional semifinals
1 Kansas def. 5 Michigan State: In a rematch of last year's regional semifinal, this time it will be Sherron Collins outdeuling Kalin Lucas in the final minute (and stealing his girlfriend in the process).
2 Ohio State def. 3 Georgetown: Game of the tournament so far, but who's got the best player in the country? (Answer: If you don't know this answer, you're either an illusioned Hoyas fan or you're not reading this column.)

Regional final
1 Kansas def. 2 Ohio State: The whole 3s beating twos thing works well ... unless you're making about eight 3s compared to 30 twos for them. Yep, Kansas will absolutely pound the Buckeyes down low with Cole "I'm missing a prominent tooth" Aldrich.

WEST

First round
1 Syracuse def. 16 Vermont: It's tempting to pick the Catamounts in a repeat of the 14-3 upset a few years back. Something tells me, though, that wouldn't be wise.
8 Gonzaga def. 9 Florida State: The 'Zags play pretty, the 'Noles play ugly. I like pretty over ugly.
12 UTEP def. 5 Butler: The Derrick "I'm gaining" Caracter tour continues.
13 Murray State def. 4 Vanderbilt: If I wasn't trying to provide somewhat knowledgeable picks, I'd have the Racers as my national champs. They'll, um, at least race by the slow-footed 'Dores.
6 Xavier def. 11 Minnesota: A very uninspiring 6-11 matchup, which leads me to go with the team that actually deserves to be in the tournament.
3 Pittsburgh def. 14 Oakland: Very tempted to go with the Grizz, but then I read that they lost their games against big-conference teams by, like, 87 points per game. Influential stat.
7 BYU def. 10 Florida: The Cougars always lose in the first round, but not with my man Jimmer Fredette!
2 Kansas State def. 15 North Texas: It's only appropriate that the Mean Green take on Frank Martin's club, because he often looks mean -- and, almost, green -- on the sideline.

Second round
1 Syracuse def. 8 Gonzaga: In a repeat of last year's Ty Lawson and the Big Toe scene in Greensboro, Arinze Onuaku's quad will be examined and talked about as much as any quad in the history of quads. Then he'll play, and the 'Cuse will win.
12 UTEP def. 13 Murray State: At halftime, CBS will do a feature on Derrick Caracter's newfound character on the court.
6 Xavier def. 3 Pittsburgh: In a rematch of last year's Sweet 16 game, the Musketeers get their revenge!
2 Kansas State def. 7 BYU: Kansas State will be angrier and hungrier for this victory. BYU was happy to plow through that first-round roadblock.

Regional semifinals
1 Syracuse def. 12 UTEP: Character's great run ends, but not before he offers a genuine handshake-back-slap to Wes Johnson in the postgame line.
2 Kansas State def. 6 Xavier: Wildcats have way too much talent for the Musketeers, who realize they've reached expectations and don't want to make Frank mad.

Regional final
1 Syracuse def. 2 Kansas State: The more I think about it, the less I like this pick. Which means I'll probably be wrong. But "whatev," as the kids say these days. Syracuse has got talent, has got the senior white guy who can shoot, has got two bangers, has got a HOF coach...

EAST

First round
1 Kentucky def. 16 East Tennessee State: I've heard a lot about ETSU's run-and-gun style, which almost took down Pitt a year ago. And the Wildcats let teams hang in games... Um, no.
8 Texas def. 9 Wake Forest: In the ultimate "The season doesn't end at the end of January, guys!" game, the Longhorns wake up first.
12 Cornell def. 5 Temple: In the ultimate "I love both teams and I hate the Selection Committee" game, I pick the upset for the sake of, well, picking the upset.
6 Marquette def. 11 Washington: Can the Pac-10 win a tournament game? See the South.
3 New Mexico def. 14 Montana: As a basketball nut, I feel very low for not having seen a minute of NM hoops this year. I've heard it's pretty good, although I haven't seen Montana either...
7 Clemson def. 10 Missouri: Andy Katz tried to hype this game up, but I can't. Neither team has interested me since Clemson got run at home by Duke and Mizzou got dominated in its house by KU.
2 West Virginia def. 15 Morgan State: I've heard a lot about Todd Bozeman's squad possibly giving Huggy Bear's fits. And I full expect it to happen. But then there's the Da'Sean Butler Factor.

Second round
1 Kentucky def. 8 Texas: As the experts have said, Texas is fully capable of beating Kentucky. And I'm fully capable of riding my bike down the entire West Coast. But will I do it again? Nope.
12 Cornell def. 4 Wisconsin: C'mon! What fun would it be to take the No. 4 seed here. Seriously. They're almost mirror images of each other. No more than 109 points will be scored.
6 Marquette def. 3 New Mexico: I love the "gritty" Golden Eagles and Buzz "I'm gonna go all crazy by the bench but I'll never look intimidating" Williams.
2 West Virginia def. 7 Clemson: In an ugly, ugly game, the Mountaineers will commit slightly fewer turnovers and shoot better (38 percent) to move on.

Regional semifinals
1 Kentucky def. 12 Cornell: Sorry, Big Red, but no matter how hard you try, you won't be able to guard DeMarcus Cousins or John Wall. Then again, Cousins could throw a hissy fit and cost his team the game. Maybe the Big Red should trash talk him, try to get him pissed...
2 West Virginia def. 6 Marquette: Hey, it's a Big East matchup. And, hey, WVU won its only matchup against the Golden Eagles. That's enough for me!

Regional final
1 Kentucky def. 2 West Virginia: This is one of those matchups where I really, really want to take WVU. But bottom line: The Mountaineers aren't a good shooting team and won't get many second chances against the Wildcats. And Butler has already reached his quota of six game-winning shots.

SOUTH

First round
1 Duke def. 16 Winthrop/Arkansas-Pine Bluff: I feel bad (kind of) picking this before we even know Duke's opponent. Maybe I'll change it after watching the game tonight...
9 Louisville def. 8 California: In the most obvious 8-9 pick, everyone east of the Rockies is taking the Cardinals. Which, obvi, means they'll lose. Oh, well.
5 Texas A&M def. 12 Utah State: I already picked two 5-12 upsets. Can't add another one.
4 Purdue def. 13 Siena: Everyone is picking Siena, and I can't blame them after the Boilers' 11-point, it's-not-high-school-hoops-any-more half Saturday. But something tells me they'll have some life in Spokane.
6 Notre Dame def. 11 Old Dominion: Note to Notre Dame: Don't watch the tape of ODU beating Georgetown in preparation for this one. I was at the game and am still convinced Greg Monroe had food poisoning.
3 Baylor def. 14 Sam Houston State: I sitll haven't gotten over the fact that Ekpe Udoh left Michigan and is now a force for the Bears, a real force.
7 Richmond def. 10 St. Mary's: I've only seen about 7 minutes of the Spiders this season, but word is they have the experienced backcourt recipe for March success.
2 Villanova def. 15 Robert Morris: Speaking of an experienced backcourt, seen Scottie Reynolds lately?

Second round
1 Duke def. 9 Louisville: Remember -- Cal will likely be in this game. But just in case it's Louisville, everyone is talking about a 9-1 upset. Well, it's possible. But if I'm betting my bike on this one -- and I really value my bike -- I'm taking Duke and its experience and rebounding.
4 Purdue def. 5 Texas A&M: Oh, what the stink. Nobody has Purdue going this far. But A&M is no better than the Boilers sans Robbie Hummel. An experienced backcourt will pull this one out.
3 Baylor def. 6 Notre Dame: Udoh will block Harangody three times, and the Bears will advance to Houston...
2 Villanova def. 7 Richmond: In the battle of experienced backcourts, I'll give the edge to the one that hit a game-winning shot with 0.5 seconds left a year ago to go to the Final Four. Watch the video and you'll see a blurry guy three rows above the Villanova bench. That was me during my glorious reporting days.

Regional semifinals
1 Duke def. 4 Purdue: This is where the suddenly overachieving Boilers meet their match. The Blue Devils' Big three of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler will be too much for Hummel-less (I enjoyed typing that) Purdue.
3 Baylor def. 2 Villanova: In Houston, the Bears will play off the home crowd and Udoh will bother Reynolds n' company every time they penetrate the lane.

Regional final
1 Duke def. 3 Baylor: I'm pretty sure 74 percent of the world is picking the Bears in Houston. They're the sexy pick, the I-hate-Duke pick, and very possibly the right pick. But I'm gonna go against the current and say the Blue Devils knock down enough outside shots and win the rebounding battle to rediscover that thing called the Final Four.

FINAL FOUR
1 Kansas def. 1 Syracuse: In a rematch of the 2003 championship game, this time it's Marcus Morris blocking Andy Rautins' 3-pointer to seal the victory. But let's get serious -- the Jayhawks have all the tools to win this game, including the high-low option to pick apart the 2-3.

1 Duke def. 1 Kentucky: Again going against the current. Everyone loves John Wall -- just checked his Facebook page, and he has 153,532 fans. Nolan Smith, meanwhile, has just 324 FB friends (even I have more!). But Smith will play good defense on Wall, who'll shoot miserably and struggle to run the offense against Duke's pressure D. And Smith will gain 1,955 FB friends immediately after the game.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
1 Kansas def. 1 Duke 75-67: This is where I switch directions and go with the current. Look, as Jay Bilas would say, the Jayhawks are the best team in the land. They've proved that throughout the season. They've got about 487 first-round prospects. And Bill Self has already won a title. Duke will stay close for a while. But in the end, the Jayhawks will wear down the Blue Devils and win their second title in three seasons.

Enjoy the madness, everyone. This might be our last perfect, non-ridiculous-and-idiotic-96-team-field March.

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