Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reviewing my preseason Field of 68


Before you even consider entrusting me with your toughest bracket picks, take a look at how my preseason prediction of the Field of 68 stacks up against the just-released bracket.

And then if you think I'm your man (a crazy thought, I know), take the plunge:

Total correct picks: 42 of 68

*Correct picks are in bold. Teams I didn't choose are in (italics).

Big East
Pitt: Maybe no team in the country is better and more comfortable at grinding out close wins, and with the ball in Ashton Gibbs' hands, why not? This team is experienced and hungry for a title.

Metro Atlantic
Fairfield (St. Peters): The Stags have improved their win total four years running, and now return four starters. That might just be enough to unseat those Siena Saints.

America East
Vermont (Boston U): The Catamounts aren't loaded, but often in these smaller conference tournaments, the teams — and coaches — that have been there before prevail.

Atlantic 10
Temple: It's hard to pick against the Owls and their back-to-back conference crowns. Point guard Juan Fernandez returns to lead the way.

Ivy League
Princeton: People are pretty high on Tommy Amaker's crew at Harvard, but the Crimson will really miss Jeremy Lin. That's why I'm taking a flier on the up-and-coming Tigers.

Patriot League
American (Bucknell): Living in DC, I attend every Eagles home game. And this team is stacked. A team returning all of its top players from a year ago adds transfers Troy Brewer (Georgia) and Charles Hinkle (Vandy).

Quinnipiac (Long Island): There are four new coaches implementing new systems in the league, but one player who knows how to win is the conference's POY Justin Rutty.

Duke: Only injuries could derail this from happening. These Devils are that good; the Tar Heels are still rebuilding; and the Hokies are still learning how to tough-out games they should win.

Morgan State (Hampton): Here's a small conference that could be devoid of drama — again. The Bears have claimed three consecutive titles and return enough talent and experience to make it four.

Big South
Coastal Carolina (UNC Asheville): They had a phenomenal regular season only to watch — guess who? — Winthrop steal the tournament bid. Not this time. A pair of South Carolina transfers won't let it happen.

Old Dominion: The Monarchs return all but one key player from the squad that took down Notre Dame in the Big Dance. Yeah, they'll be back.

Wofford: After coming within a few hairs of taking down Wisconsin in the tournament, Wofford returns four starters and five seniors.

Florida: The Gators return a starting lineup that features three seniors hungry for some success considering their unmet expectations the past three years. Talented freshmen also are on the scene.

Ohio Valley
Murray State (Morehead State): Easy choice. The Racers return eight contributors from the fun-to-watch outfit that took down Vandy in the Dance and almost snuck by St. Mary's.

Atlantic Sun
Lipscomb (Belmont): Betcha can't guess who the nation's leading returning scorer is? Heard of Adrian Hodzic? Nope, me neither. But the dude dropped in 22.7 ppg a year ago.

Sun Belt
North Texas (Arkansas Little Rock): The Mean Green — best name ever, by the way — will make it to the Dance for the third time in five years thanks to double-double machine George Odufuwa (pronounce that!).

Oakland: Now that the talented Grizzlies finally got a brief taste of NCAA Tournament fever, they really want to return. NBA prospect Keith Benson (17.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg) will make sure of that.

Big Ten
Michigan State: Ohio State's going to present quite the challenge, and Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota will also be tough (and Northwestern!). But the Spartans will emerge from a loaded conference.

Ohio (Akron): One of the most entertaining games to watch on the first night of the crazy tournament was Ohio's thrashing of Georgetown. The Bobcats couldn't be stopped. With most of the catalysts back, expect similar results.

Conference USA
Memphis: The young Josh Pastner is quietly assembling a, um, young, loaded squad at Calipari's old stomping grounds. Expect a return to normalcy in the conference.

Butler: They'll miss Gordon Hayward, no doubt, but don't think for a second that these Bulldogs will lapse during conference play. Under Brad Stevens, they'll continue to dominate the conference.

Big 12
Kansas State: Sorry, Kansas, but your rivals will be the ones to steal your grasp of the league. I love Jacob Pullen — fear the beard! — and his late-game heroics, and the frontcourt is loaded.

Missouri Valley
Wichita State (Indiana State): The Shockers return all but one key player from a team that came a win away from taking the place of Cinderella Northern Iowa in the Dance.

Texas State (Texas-San Antonio): Anytime you add a Kentucky transfer — A.J. Stewart — to a Southland team, things are usually looking up. Such is the case for Texas State.

Jackson State (Alabama State): Despite an injury to preseason player of the year Grant Maxey, the Tigers won the regular-season crown by three games. Now Maxey, plus four other starters, returns. Watch out.

Utah State: The Aggies are one of the most consistent, and overlooked, programs in the country. Of course, that does happen when you don't play anybody. But within the league, they dominate.

Big Sky
Weber State (Northern Colorado): The Wildcats, I'm sure, have used the entire offseason to work as hard as possible to forget the sting of blowing a 20-point lead against Montana in the conference title game. No repeat.

Mountain West
San Diego State: I love Steve Fisher's squad, which returns five starters, including double-double guy Kawhi Leonard. The Aztecs could do some damage in the Dance.

Washington: Arizona and Freshman of the Year Derrick Williams are up-and-coming and will be back in the Dance, but the Huskies are clearly the class of the league led by G's Isaiah Thomas and Abdul Gaddy.

Big West
UCSB: The Gauchos have the returning POY (Orlando Johnson) and a dude who had nine 20-point games (James Nunnally). Enough said.

West Coast
Gonzaga: Speaking of enough said, guess who dominates their conference every year? The 'Zags might need to win the conference tournament considering their nonconference war zone: SDSU, Kansas State, Duke/Marquette, Illinois, at Notre Dame, Baylor, Xavier and Oklahoma State. Brutal!

THE AT-LARGE BIDS (37 teams)
*In order of higher-seeded teams

Virginia Tech
North Carolina
N.C. State
Virginia Tech
(Florida State)

Atlantic 10

Big East
West Virginia
(St. John's)
(Notre Dame) 

Big Ten
Ohio State
(Penn State) 

Big 12
Texas A&M

Missouri Valley

Mountain West

Arizona State

Mississippi State

Other tournament teams I missed
George Mason

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