March 14, 2005

Tourney Time

Like every other living, breathing person in this country when the end of March rolls around, I suddenly have strong opinions about college basketball. Otherwise uninterested people spending money to put their predictive abilities to the test against other otherwise uninterested people is really an amazing yearly phenomena when you think about it. As for me, I am and always have been a big college basketball fan, but I haven't watched quite as many games or teams as I have in past years. That still leaves me having seen at least a few games a week, of course, which puts me way ahead of about 90% of the people who will be filling out brackets with great conviction in the next couple days.

Heading into Championship Week, the team I really liked as sort of a semi-sleeper was Connecticut. I know it sounds weird to say that you like the defending national champs as a sleeper team, but they have been overlooked for most of the year after dropping an early non-conference game to a horrible Massachusetts team and then dropping another five games during the regular season. Still, they looked like a very dangerous team to me in the five or six times I got a chance to watch them.

They have tournament experience, with no fewer than five players getting significant playing time for a team that won six games in the tournament last year. They can score, averaging 78.6 points per game. They can defend, with an NCAA-best 9.1 blocks per game and a scoring margin of nearly 12 points per game. They are deep, with nine guys averaging 10 or more minutes per game. They have a good playmaking point guard in Marcus Williams, who led college basketball with 8.1 assists per game. They have a ton of size, with skilled big men Josh Boone, Charlie Villanueva, and Rudy Gay. And they have a great, experienced coach in Jim Calhoun.

Add all that up and they looked, to me at least, like a great example of a team that could be extremely dangerous come tournament time. And, of course, they proceeded to lay an egg in the Big East semi-final game against Syracuse. The final score (67-63) makes it look like a good game, but Connecticut was down 13 points at the half and as many as 21 points with 13 minutes to go in the game. I suppose you could say that they went on a 36-19 run to finish their final game before the tournament, but I'm not even close to being that much of an optimist. Turns out the selection committee must have seen the same things in Connecticut that I saw, as the Huskies, despite ranking 13th in RPI, and 12th and 14th in the top-25 polls, got a #2 seed. In other words, so much for being a sleeper.

I mention all this to you because that is basically the extent of my March Madness analysis. I watch as many teams as I can during the year, try to pinpoint a few of the less-than-obvious teams (or so I thought) that I like and why I like them, and then pick accordingly. If someone in your office pool tells you their strategy goes beyond that and they don't have the college basketball package for DirecTV and aren't named Jerry Palm, they are probably lying. I mean, does the guy in the cubicle next to you really know anything about Old Dominion, Creighton, and Bucknell that he didn't read in the USA Today team capsules on the way to the office?

Of course not, which is exactly why the following picks have as much chance of being good as anyone's ...

First-Round Winners:

Illinois         Washington       North Carolina   Duke
Nevada Pittsburgh Minnesota Mississippi St.
Alabama Georgia Tech New Mexico Michigan St.
Boston Coll. Louisville Florida Syracuse
LSU Texas Tech Wisconsin Utah
Arizona Gonzaga Kansas Oklahoma
S. Illinois Creighton NC St. Cincinnati
Oklahoma St. Wake Forest Connecticut Kentucky

Way fewer upsets (Creighton, New Mexico, NC State) than a bracket should have in the first round, but I honestly just didn't see as many of the usual 4/13, 5/12, 6/11, 7/10 matchup possibilities being ripe for the picking. I do like a bunch of #9 seeds, but that barely counts as an upset.

Helluva break for my poor Gophers, who somehow managed to win 21 games in a season when I had them left for dead in January. Their reward, should they beat Iowa State, is a matchup with the team everyone seems to think is the best and most talented in the country. I'd be shocked if North Carolina doesn't win by 30. Of course, I was shocked when the Gophers won their sixth Big Ten game.

Sweet Sixteen:

Illinois         Washington       North Carolina   Duke
Alabama Louisville Florida Syracuse
Arizona Gonzaga Kansas Utah
Oklahoma St. Wake Forest Connecticut Kentucky

Here's where my bracket starts to get a little goofy. I don't really like Alabama all that much, so much as I think Boston College is a good bet to get knocked out early. I like both Georgia Tech and Louisville, so I basically flipped a coin on that one. I like Texas Tech if they had another second-round matchup, but I think Gonzaga is for real this year. And I'd love to stick with Wisconsin, but Kansas is just too tough. My biggest second-round upset is Utah over Oklahoma. I'd feel a lot more comfortable with the pick if their point guard was healthy, so it's basically just an "Andrew Bogut is really, really good" pick.

Elite Eight:

Illinois         Louisville       North Carolina   Syracuse
Arizona Gonzaga Connecticut Utah

More goofiness. Like I said, I like both Louisville and Georgia Tech, so I think whoever wins that game will also knock off Washington. I'm taking Syracuse over Duke because Paul Katcher has been telling everyone how good the Orange were all season and Gerry McNamara is a great college point guard. Plus, I'm sick of Duke. And yes, I'm sticking with Bogut and the Utes to knock off Kentucky. Don't ask me why, because I really don't have a good reason. In fact, Utah isn't even a sure thing to win their round-one matchup with UTEP, yet I now have them in the Elite Eight.

Final Four:

Illinois         Gonzaga          Connecticut      Syracuse

Here's the funny thing: If you would have asked me to name the four best teams in the country before the seedings were announced, I would have said North Carolina, Illinois, Connecticut, and Kansas. The problem is that three of those four teams are somehow in the same 16-team region, which causes everything to go pretty nuts on my bracket.

Championship Game:

Connecticut 79, Illinois 75

I actually think Illinois is overrated, mostly because of how bad the Big Ten was this year, yet no one on their side of the bracket strikes me as an elite team. How anyone can look at the top 3-4 seeds in each region and not think that the bracket is incredibly lopsided with power on the North Carolina/Duke side is beyond me.

So there you have it. As usual, I will deny having predicted any of this starting sometime Thursday night.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- If Line Drives Could Speak (by Studes)

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.