I know baseball is right around the corner, the Cavs are in full swing (as you know, I’m NBA Free), and the Browns draft and QB situation are on the top of everybody’s mind these days, but I am all in for the NCAA Tournament right now. Everything else gets put on hold during these next three weeks for me. This is the greatest event in all of sports, bar none. You can have the Super Bowl or the World Series or the NBA Finals; I will take the NCAA Tournament all day long.
With the “First Four” just one day away in Dayton, Ohio, I know you are all getting your brackets ready and your picks in. Readers of my work know that I am a Kansas grad and a die-hard supporter of the program and the sport in general. My wife likes to say I watch more college basketball than any normal human being with two kids should. Its probably true. But hey, this is me. We’ve been together now for half of our lives (18 years) and these are behaviors that have been embedded in her by me over the years (dating advice 101 – get those things right out there in the open and don’t hide them from a new girlfriend. It will only benefit you later).
But I digress.
I like to think I have a handle on the college basketball landscape. Does this mean I have any clue what is going to happen in the tournament? Probably not, but really who does? How many of you had VCU and Butler in the Final Four last year? So with that, I am going to give you some thoughts on the tournament as I take a look at the brackets:
Overall I think the committee did a decent job. I don’t dwell on the bubble teams because other than VCU last year, they never end up mattering. In terms of slotting, there were a few teams that were completely underseeded:
Memphis is an 8 seed in the West after winning both the Conference USA regular season and tournament. They are a team that has gotten better as the season has gone on and is peaking at the right time. Ken Pomeroy, the guru of NCAA efficiency statistics ranks the Tigers ninth OVERALL. I value Ken Pom’s rating over the RPI any day of the week. This is a team loaded with athletes and highly recruited players. If they can get past St. Louis in their first game, it wouldn’t stun me one bit if they shocked Michigan State to get to the Sweet 16. At worst Memphis should be a 6.
I know they aren’t playing well, but there is just too much talent and experience on this Florida team to be given a 7 seed. The committee didn’t seem to value the SEC (nor should they have), but then explain to me how a up and down Alabama team is just one line lower as an 8 seed and are playing without the suspended Tony Mitchell, who is an athletic freak. The Gators were a chic Final Four pick earlier in the season and hung around the top ten during parts of the season. They live and die by the three, but the talent is undeniable. That’s a scary 7 seed in the West.
Murray State goes 30-1 and takes down essentially all comers (including Memphis and St. Mary’s), yet they are only a 6 seed? They are on the same line as the overrated San Diego State team that has seven losses and hasn’t played well down the stretch.
In looking at each region, I have to agree with many of the experts that say The South is the toughest region of them all. They say the selection committee has no biases, but its not exactly a secret that Kentucky’s John Calipari is not exactly a favorite in the offices of the NCAA. He has essentially become the 2012 version of Jerry Tarkanian. He has success everywhere he goes, but a the NCAA is always watching.
His team is the undisputed #1 in the game, yet the committee did him no favors. The Cats could have to face the under-achieving yet, uber-talented UConn Huskies in their second game. Taking on the defending National Champs with so many pieces back from last year is not going to be easy. The good news for UK is I believe they won’t be seeing Connecticut, who to I seeing losing to Iowa State. Up next for Kentucky would either be one of the most underrated teams in the country – #5 seed Wichita State, or #4 Indiana, the team that delivered them their only regular season loss.
The bottom half of the draw is much more manageable with Baylor or Duke as the best bets to meet Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Duke beat Baylor in the Elite Eight two years ago, and I see Scott Drew’s club returning the favor in the Sweet 16 this year, before eventually succumbing to the most talented team in the country one step short of the Final Four.
If you are looking for a soft walk to the Final Four, you’d have to say The Midwest Region is wide open for North Carolina. The top half of their draw won’t cause them any difficulties. The second round game will be either against an over-seeded Alabama team, or Creighton, who loves to get up and down, but are one of the worst defensive teams in this field. Their 4 seed is Michigan who will battle a soft 5 in Temple, assuming these two don’t get bit by the upset bug in their first games. UNC will run past Michigan with ease in my opinion. While Michigan plays a style that teams outside of the Big Ten have trouble with, Carolina has too may weapons for the Wolverines.
Kansas sits as UNC’s biggest threat on the bottom half of the Midwest Region. I’m not going to be a homer here and tell you that KU is going to get to the Final Four, but the draw sets up nicely for them as well. While their first round game against 15 seed Detroit will be tougher than most people think (McDonald’s All-American count: Detroit 1 Kansas 0), they should be more than OK into the Sweet 16 against the winner of Purdue and St. Mary’s. Kansas has already beaten Georgetown once this season and though both teams have vastly improved since that early meeting, don’t be surprised to see the 14 seed Belmont, who only lost to Duke by 1 at Cameron earlier this year, take the Hoyas down. The 6 seed in the Midwest is the aforementioned San Diego State. In the end, Roy Williams will get to take on his former school for the second time in four years, but this time, his team will come out on top.
Teams I am high on: Missouri, Florida State, Wichita State, Marquette. I’d add Long Beach State to this group, but Larry Anderson’s injury is holding me back.
Teams primed for an early exit: Louisville, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Temple.
First #1 seed to lose: Michigan State
My Final Four:
Kentucky – Head and shoulders above the rest
Missouri – A veteran, great shooting, solid defending team, who has GREAT guards. Has that Final Four look
Florida State – Head over head here. Heart says Cuse, but FSU matches up well with the Orange. Has the shooters to beat their zone and the bodies inside to kill them on the glass, Syracuse’s weak spot.
North Carolina – See above. Too much talent for everyone else in their soft draw.
Who wins it all? – I just can’t see Kentucky losing to anyone. Calipari will finally get his ring.