Your Annual Tourney Preview

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had its dullest induction ceremony ever this year, with underwhelming acts such as ABBA, Genesis, and The Stooges being honored. To make matters worse for the twelve people watching on Fuse, ABBA and Genesis didn’t even bother to perform, leaving Faith Hill and Phish left to intepret such “classics” as “No Reply at All” and “The Winner Takes It All.”

Fortunately, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament should suffer no such downturn this year, as no singular favorite (like last year’s North Carolina team) — and constant reports of the tournament’s expansion — means that intrigue for this year’s road to Indianapolis is higher than usual.

With regards to expansion, I tend to agree with those who say why mess with a good thing (I’ll tell you why, it’s all about the benjamins, baby), but then again, I was perfectly happy with the Big Gulp (32 oz.) until the Double Gulp (64 oz.) came along. Now I consider the Big Gulp strictly fare for those with bladder control issues. 

It shouldn’t matter if you have bladder control issues as you try to watch this year’s tournament, as each hour of coverage has more commercials than an hour of Lost has “whaat?” moments. (Seriously, what is the deal with that temple? And that John Locke twin thing is as laughable as that time Jack Tripper tried to convince Mr. Furley he had a twin brother so he could date Furley’s hot niece.)

This year’s NCAA tournament may or may not be as entertaining as a typical episode of Three’s Company, but it is more likely to win you or lose you some hard-earned money.

Not that I condone that sort of thing.

Anyway, here’s a brief look at each region with some teams to avoid picking and potential bracket-busting teams to watch for:

Midwest: Without a doubt the toughest bracket, with overall number one seed Kansas, Big Ten champ Ohio State, and elite programs Georgetown (with the nation’s #1 strength of schedule), Maryland (with the ACC’s player of the year Greivis Vasquez), and Michigan State (the Spartans went all the way to the championship game last year). Whoever comes out of this bracket is going to be exhausted but poised to win it all.

Sleeper pick: #10 Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets made it to the ACC tournament’s championship game before losing by just four to #1 seed Duke. They have depth and experience. They have a great chance to beat Oklahoma State, a beat that relies too much on the three-point shot. If they beat the Cowboys, they would likely get #2 Ohio State, a team that needed a hail mary and double overtime to beat two non-tournament teams just last week.

Forget it: #13 Houston. The Cougars haven’t been invited to the dance since the halcyon days of grunge (1992). Even the Screaming Trees lasted longer than the Cougars did in 1992, as Houston then lost in the first round. Nearly twenty years later, history will repeat itself.

Final Four Team: #1 Kansas. The best team from statistically the best conference of the year? Safer than picking Hurt Locker for Best Picture.

West: This bracket is softer than the septic-approved toilet paper my family is begrudingly forced to use. Even #1 Syracuse has issues, losing its opening game of the Big East tournament and likely having to sit its starting center due to injury. But its lack of tournament powerhouses might make the West region the most entertaining bracket to watch (and the toughest to predict).

Sleeper pick: #12 Texas El-Paso. Yes, they play for the underwhelming Conference USA, but they had won sixteen games in a row before losing in their conference tournament’s final game. The Miners play great defense and have a fine guard in Randy Culpepper, who has much surer hands than washed-up QB Daunte Culpepper. If they can get past Butler in a tough opening game, they might be primed to make some noise.

Forget it: #11 Minnesota. The Cinderella run ends before it begins for Tubby Smith’s team. Simply getting here was victory enough for the Gophers.

Final Four Team: #2 Kansas St. They posted a great record (11-5) in a tough conference and they have solid guard play. In this bracket, that’s good enough.

South: Another potentially soft bracket, with a few interesting teams near the middle to make it just a little tougher for the eventual Final Four representative. Two of the top seeds here, Villanova and Purdue, are struggling mightily and could be forced out early.

Sleeper pick: #5 Texas A&M. The team with the sixth-toughest schedule in the nation notched a bunch of quality wins in the latter part of the season, with victories against Baylor, Texas, and Missouri, and fell to Kansas by only five points. They could face either #4 Purdue or #13 Siena in the second round — #13 Siena is also a good sleeper pick in this bracket — and then go on to play a Duke team that has underperformed in the tournament in recent years.

Forget it: #4 Purdue. I hate to keep dumping on Purdue, but did you see that Minnesota game last week? How did this team snag a #4 seed?

Final Four Team: #3 Baylor. I don’t trust #1 Duke, and #2 Villanova has lost five of their last seven games. That leaves #3 Baylor, another scary Big 12 team.

East: A close runner-up to the Midwest bracket for toughest road to the Final Four. Any team in the top half of this bracket could contend, including the Wisconsin Badgers, who can keep anybody close with that defense and lack of turnovers. And if Jason Bohannon or Keaton Nankivil get hot, look out. (Similarly, if they go cold . . . )

Sleeper pick: #11 Washington. You know it was a bad year for a major conference when its champion gets buried as a double-digit seed. But teams should be leery of facing the Huskies. They are ninth in the nation in points scored and led the Pac-10 in rebounding. Plus they may have a sense that they’re representating a discredited and undervalued conference, which could give their game an edge.

Don’t Bother: #13 Wofford. The Terriers from Wofford — the smallest school to ever be represented in the NCAA tournament — have never been here before. Wisconsin will make sure their stay is brief.

Final Four Team: #2 West Virginia. The Mountaineers should have been a #1 seed and they will prove as much throughout the tourney.

Championship Game: Kansas vs. West Virginia.

Champion: Kansas. In line with this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, this isn’t the most exciting prediction. But Kansas looks poised to win its second championship in three years. Maybe next year a more surprising team will win — and maybe next year Hall and Oates will get into the Hall. (Sign those petitions now — John Oates won’t live forever!) 

Enjoy the games and good luck on your brackets.


One Response

  1. Thanks for this post. Very well described. 🙂

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