March 17, 2003
For those of you not interested in anything that isn't related to baseball, you'll have to excuse me today, because the next few weeks are the most exciting time of the year for any sports fan and I am too excited not to write about it.
The seeding for the NCAA basketball tournament was announced last night and, since I enjoy making predictions and some of you seem to be interested in what I predict, I figured I would take this opportunity to make my picks for March Madness public.
It's tough to discuss the tournament without the aid of a bracket, but I haven't quite figured out how to get one of those with my picks filled in on this page, so I'll try not to make this too confusing. If you want to take a look at a complete bracket, click here.
And, as always, feel free to e-mail me in a few weeks to tell me just how wrong I was.
Let's just hop around to each region...
Arizona is the deserving #1 seed here, after going 25-3 overall and 17-1 in the Pac-10. The Wildcats did lose in the 1st round of the Pac-10 tourney, but they finished #2 in the country in RPI rating and had won 20 out of 21 before that slip up.
The rest of the West bracket is far and away the toughest of the four regions.
Kansas is the #2 seed, Duke is the #3 seed and Illinois is the #4 seed. Think about that for a moment. In one region, you have the regular season Pac-10 champs, the regular season Big Twelve champs, the Big Ten tournament champs and the ACC tournament champs.
Kansas could easily have been given a #1 seed and both Duke and Illinois could have gotten as high as #2s. I think the top four seeds in the West will make it to the sweet 16 and I really don't think there will be a whole lot of upsets in this region.
Gonzaga (9) will beat Cincinnati (8) in round one, but that isn't really much of an upset. I also think that Wisconsin-Milwaukee (12) has a good chance of beating Notre Dame (5) and Central Michigan (11) has a very good chance of knocking off Creighton (6).
In the later rounds, I am predicting Arizona goes down to Illinois, who I think are really clicking right now and have one of the best players in the country in Brian Cook.
So here are my predictions for the West region:
Sweet Sixteen = Arizona (1), Kansas (2), Duke (3) and Illinois (4).
Elite Eight = Illinois (4) and Kansas (2).
Final Four = Illinois (4).
Kentucky gets the #1 seed in the Midwest after blitzing through the SEC regular season and tournament undefeated and finishing the year with 23 straight wins and the #1 RPI ranking in the country.
The Wildcats are absolutely deserving of a #1 seed and I am really confused as to why the committee would set up the brackets so that Arizona and Kentucky could meet before the championship game. I feel like they are the definite top two teams in the country right now for seeding purposes and I'd sure like it if they were on opposite sides of the bracket. As it stands now, if they meet it will be in the national semi-final game.
Pittsburgh receives the #2 seed, which is what they deserve. There was some talk of them getting a #1, but I just don't think their schedule was that great and I don't think they could have been chosen as a #1 over any of the three Big Twelve powers.
While Kentucky is a very deserving #1 seed and Pitt is a solid #2, I think the rest of the Midwest's top seeds are very weak and very ripe for upsets.
I like Tulsa (13) to beat Dayton (4) in the first round. I also think Weber State (12) has a decent shot of beating Wisconsin (5) in round one and I think Tulsa will beat whichever team comes out of the Wisconsin/Weber State matchup in round two.
I like Indiana (7) to beat Alabama (10) in the first round and then upset Pitt (2) in round two and I like Missouri (6) to upset Marquette (3) in round two also.
Here are my predictions for the Midwest region:
Sweet Sixteen = Kentucky (1), Missouri (6), Indiana (7) and Tulsa (13).
Elite Eight = Kentucky (1) and Indiana (7).
Final Four = Kentucky (1).
Oklahoma gets the nod here as the #1 seed after finishing third in the Big 12 regular season standings and winning the conference tournament. They didn't have to play either Kansas or Texas to win it, so it's not all that impressive, but I still think they deserve the #1 seed here. They finished #3 in RPI and have 10 wins over top 50 RPI teams.
Wake Forest gets the second seed after winning the ACC regular season championship and losing to NC State in the ACC tourney. Wake is obviously a good team and the ACC champs probably deserve a #2 seed no matter who they are, but I still think the Demon Deacons aren't the strongest of #2 seeds.
Syracuse gets #3 and Louisville is #4.
I really don't see a single major upset happening in this entire region. I think NC State (9) will beat California (8), but that's no big deal. Oklahoma State (6) could have a little trouble with Penn (11), but I think they'll win that game.
In the later rounds, I think the Mississippi State (5) / Louisville (4) game in the second round will be a great one. And the matchup of the winner of that game and Oklahoma in round three will be awesome.
I like Syracuse (3) to beat Wake Forest (2), which is a slight upset, I suppose.
My official picks:
Sweet Sixteen = Oklahoma (1), Wake Forest (2), Syracuse (3), Louisville (4).
Elite Eight = Oklahoma (1), Syracuse (3).
Final Four = Oklahoma (1).
The Texas Longhorns, led by my favorite player in all of college basketball, T.J. Ford, got the #1 seed in the South region.
Some of you may not have been around then or maybe you just don't remember, but I actually wrote a long entry about college basketball on the very first night of the season, way back in November.
Since I mentioned Ford here and I talked a lot about him back then, I figure this would be a good time to check back on that column and see how my predictions panned out...
If you haven't heard of Carmelo Anthony yet, you soon will. Anthony is a freshman swingman at Syracuse and will soon be a superstar. He can do it all. He has good ballhandling skills, is extremely athletic and can even rebound the ball pretty well. But, the thing that impresses me the most about his game is his mid-range jumpshot. He can stop on a dime, pull up and sink a 17-footer at any time, and that is a pretty rare skill in today's dunk and 3-pointer game.
Keep an eye out for him and remember the name, he is going to be very special. To steal a quote from ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, I wish I could buy stock in Carmelo Anthony.
Hmmm...turns out I have a good eye for freshmen talent, I guess!
Carmelo Anthony ended up leading Syracuse to a tie for the Big East regular season title. He averaged 22.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game and was, far and away, the best freshman in the country. In fact, he was so good that his college career is probably only going to be this one season and he'll be a top-five pick in the NBA draft. So, I am going to give myself an "A+" on the Carmelo Anthony comment.
Speaking of special players...
My favorite player in all of college basketball is Texas sophomore point guard T.J. Ford.
You know that question on personality tests that asks, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" Well, if I was a point guard, I would be a T.J. Ford, or at least I would like to be a T.J. Ford. T.J. is the player I tried to be when I was playing basketball. He is basically an assist waiting to happen. He doesn't score much (about 10 points a game), but if a Longhorns big man gets open, he will find him for an easy score. He is fast, extremely athletic, has exceptional ball handling skills and is the best point guard in the country. Point guards that can score 20 a game are certainly nice, but give me a T.J. Ford, a guy that can run the offense and keep everyone involved, and I will take him everyday of the week and 5 times on John Stockton's birthday. T.J. Ford is my pick to lead the country in assists this year and he should do it by a pretty large margin. So, keep an eye on him and remember his name too (along with Anthony's).
Once again, not a bad prediction.
Ford didn't end up leading the country in assists like I predicted, but he did average 7.3 per game, which was 5th in college basketball.
Oh...and he won ESPN.com's Player of the Year Award too!
Despite not getting the assist prediction right, I think I was dead on about him being a special player (he won the player of the year!) and I am going to give myself an "A" for this one. This isn't a more exciting player in basketball right now.
Rick Rickert is the real deal. At 6-10, he is a phenomenal long range shooter with an improving post game. He is not a great defender or rebounder yet, but he'll improve with time in the weight room and more games in the Big Ten Conference. I think Rickert will win the Big Ten Player of the Year and I don't think it will even be particularly close. I expect him to average about 20-22 points and 8-10 boards this year.
Okay, so two out of three aint bad, right?
Rick Rickert was one of the biggest disappointments in college basketball this year and I say that as a gigantic Minnesota Gophers fan and current U of M student.
Instead of averaging "20-22 points and 8-10 boards" he averaged 15.9 points and 6.3 boards. He was also not even close to winning the Big Ten Player of the Year award. I think he will leave for the NBA and I have to say that I don't even care. He would help the team a lot next year, but he is a very frustrating player to watch and I don't think he will ever be a superstar, even at the college level.
I am gonna give myself a "D+" on this one, just because he did make first-team Big Ten.
Then I moved on to team and conference predictions...
The Minnesota Gophers should have their best season since the Clem Haskins era.
Well, I think that probably did occur, but it isn't exactly something to get excited about.
I also said:
Last year's starting point guard, senior Kevin Burleson, returns, although whether or not that is good news is debatable.
This was my understatement of the year. Kevin Burleson was so bad this season that it is almost beyond words. The mere mention of his name is enough to make any Gopher fan cringe. It got so bad that he was routinely booed at home at the end of the year. He shot 35.7% on the year and had an incredible nack for completely ruining any momentum we had going in a game by throwing a pass right out of bounds or pulling up for a 25-foot 3-point shot that would inevitably hit nothing but air.
He's gone now and if I never hear his name again, it will be too soon. No grade on this one, because I didn't really make a prediction and I did imply that he stunk.
One player that I do expect to step up his game is sophomore shooting guard Maurice Hargrow. Mo and I went to high school together for 4 years, although I would guess he is completely unaware of that fact. Hargrow is extremely athletic and fast and has a very good first step. He isn't a real good shooter yet, but I think he will be a nice surprise for Minnesota this year and should provide some scoring punch off the bench.
This might be the prediction that I am most proud of. Mo Hargrow was pretty much the lone bright spot on the entire Minnesota team this season. He went from barely used freshman to 13.1 points a game as a sophomore. He improved his outside shooting (40.0% on 3's) and developed into a solid all-around player, the best on the team on most days (depending on whether or not Rickert decided to play that particularly game)
I am giving myself an "A" on this because I spotted a freshman that averaged like eight minutes a game last year and predicted he would have a good season. The only reason I'm not going with an "A+" is that I said he'd "provide some scoring punch off the bench" and he actually was a starter all year.
The Gophers will go as far as their big men will take them. I think they have a good chance at winning the Big Ten title, but I predict they will finish in 2nd place.
Well, we already established that their main big man, Rick Rickert, did not have a good year. And I was way off about them finishing 2nd, because they actually finished tied for 6th in the conference. I am gonna give myself a "D" for this prediction.
North Carolina. Yes, I realize how horrible they were last year. And no, I don't expect them to be great this year.
I do think they will be much improved with a starting 5 that includes 3 much heralded freshmen and 2 very good sophomores who were the lone bright spots on last year's team. I think UNC will finish in the top 4 of the ACC Conference, which is saying something after they finished tied for dead last a year ago.
This prediction was looking sooooo awesome after about two weeks of the season. UNC was sitting at 5-0 after beating Kansas and Stanford in back-to-back games. But then Sean May, their freshman center and only real big man, broke his foot in the 10th game of the year and missed the entire remainder of the regular season. They ended up at 17-15 and finished 6th in the ACC - not "in the top 4."
I think my prediction was right about them, but May's injury just killed them, so I am going to give myself a "C+" on this one because they did improve immensely from last year.
Texas. The Big Twelve has the most upper level, elite teams in the country, with Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas amazingly all in the pre-season top 5. I like Kansas a lot, but that isn't really much of a shock. So, I'll talk a little bit about the Longhorns.
I already mentioned how in love I am with T.J. Ford's game. I also really like junior forward James Thomas, who is a force inside and is a great finisher (which is key when you have Ford setting you up for easy baskets all over the place). If Thomas can get some help inside, Texas should be in for a very good season. Even though they are ranked #5 in the country to start the year, I don't think many people are talking about them as major contenders, but that will change.
Bingo. I hit this one right on the head. The Longhorns finished second in the Big 12 and received a #1 seed in the tournament. James Thomas had a great year and Ford was spectacular. I'll give myself a "B+" on this one, just because they were highly ranked at the start of the year anyway.
Louisville. Rick Pitino's first season with Louisville was a good one, but not great. I think the 2002-2003 version will be much improved. They return almost every important player from last year's 19-13 team, including senior guard Reece Gaines, who is a stud and a good bet to average 25 a game. Louisville will make the NCAA tourney and it wouldn't surprise me to see them in the Sweet Sixteen.
Damn, I am good!
Louisville started the season 18-1 and even beat Kentucky. They struggled at the end of the year, but finished with a 24-6 record and were the Conference USA tournament champs. They got a #4 seed in the tourney.
Louisville was nowhere near the pre-season top 25 and they finished 16th, so I am going to give myself an "A" for this one.
Now, a team I don't like so much...Florida.
The Gators are ranked #7 in the country right now and that simply is not going to last. They play a pretty soft non-conference schedule, but once the SEC season begins, they will start dropping games. Florida have absolutely zero frontcourt depth beyond Matt Bonner and David Lee. I have heard that freshman guard Christian Drejer is the real deal and he better be, because the Gators are going to have to score a lot of points to make up for their lack of rebounding and shot blocking. Plus, Drejer is going to miss the few couple of weeks with a foot injury. They'll make the NCAA Tourney, but they aren't going to finish anywhere near #7. Brett Nelson has got to be the least deserving John Wooden Award candidate (2 years in a row!) in the history of the world.
This one wasn't so good.
Florida struggled all year, but usually managed to pull out the close games. They finished at 24-7, second in the SEC and got a #2 seed in the tourney. I am gonna give myself another "D" for this one, although I was right about how bad Brett Nelson is/was.
My official picks for regular season champions (because anything can happen in the conference tourney):
Big Ten = Michigan State.
ACC = Duke.
Big East = Boston College (East Division) and Pittsburgh (West Division).
Big Twelve = Kansas.
Pac Ten = Arizona.
SEC = Georgia (East Division) and Alabama (West Division).
Hmmm...some good and some bad.
Michigan State finished tied for third in the Big Ten.
Duke finished tied for second in the ACC.
Georgia finished third in the SEC East and Alabama finished fourth in the SEC West.
On the other hand...
Kansas did win the Big 12 and Arizona did win the Pac-10, and I got both Boston College and Pitt correct for the Big East.
Overall, not great, but not bad either.
I'll give myself a "C+" on this part.
Actually, this is looking pretty good.
Of the four teams I picked, two are #1 seeds, one is a #2 seed and one is a #3 seed. That's pretty good. I am gonna go with a "B" on this part.
So, let's add up my grades here:
A+ (Carmelo Anthony)
A (T.J. Ford)
D+ (Rick Rickert)
A (Mo Hargrow)
D (Gophers 2nd in Big Ten)
C+ (UNC improvement)
C+ (Conference champs)
B (Final Four picks)
Ignoring the "plusses," my "GPA" here is 2.64. In other words, "a solid C." Yay!
Okay, now back to the South region, since we got really sidetracked with T.J. Ford...
As you can probably tell by reading what I wrote about them in November, I still like Texas to advance to the Final Four out of this region.
Florida is the 2 seed and I think that is horrible seeding. They finished the year by losing three games in a row and their final RPI is only 15, which would put them as a #4 seed. There is no way Florida should get a #2 while Duke gets a #3 and Illinois gets a #4, it just doesn't make sense.
I think Florida will get knocked out in the second round by the winner of the Michigan State (7) / Colorado (10) game. I think Colorado will win, but either team will beat Florida.
I also think Maryland (6) will beat UNC-Wilmington (11) in round one and then upset Xavier (3) in round two. LSU (8) over Purdue (9) is stone cold lock in round one.
UCONN (5) could have some problems with BYU (12), but they should pull it out.
My South region predictions:
Sweet Sixteen = Texas (1), Connecticut (5), Maryland (6) and Colorado (10).
Elite Eight = Texas (1) and Maryland (6).
Final Four = Texas (1).
Okay, so there you have it.
West = Arizona (1), Kansas (2), Duke (3) and Illinois (4).
Midwest = Kentucky (1), Missouri (6), Indiana (7) and Tulsa (13).
East = Oklahoma (1), Wake Forest (2), Syracuse (3), Louisville (4).
South = Texas (1), Connecticut (5), Maryland (6) and Colorado (10).
West = Kansas (2) and Illinois (4).
Midwest = Kentucky (1) and Indiana (7).
East = Oklahoma (1) and Syracuse (3).
South = Texas (1) and Maryland (6).
West = Illinois (4)
Midwest = Kentucky (1)
East = Oklahoma (1)
South = Texas (1)
Kentucky vs. Texas
And your 2003 NCAA basketball champs...
T.J. Ford and the Texas Longhorns, of course.
Are we having fun yet?!
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****