As promised, a bit of an NCAA Tournament Preview MGM-style…beware, though, as this year’s bracket has left me less confident than any previous year. It’s amazing how little a difference there is this year between, say, the 3-seeds and the 11-seeds. Being a coach myself, I like to pretend that I know a thing or two about college basketball, but this year’s bracket is baffling.
Anyways, on with my annual FEARLESS PREDICTIONS about the upcoming tournament, guaranteed to be wrong or your money back (apologies to Gregg Easterbrook):
1. I picked no double-digit seeds to advance to the Sweet Sixteen this year, but if there’s one to watch in this tournament, it’s Utah State (11-seed, West Region). An excellent season at 30-4 this year in the WAC, with a fantastic post presence in 6’9″ 26-year old Gary Wilkinson. I have them beating a depleted Marquette squad in Round 1 and taking Missouri to the brink in the round of 32.
2. 13-seed Portland State will defeat 4-seed Xavier in the East Region. Experience at the guard position is always a big plus when it comes to tourney time, and this team shoots the ball exceptionally well from the perimeter. Xavier is also painfully overrated as a 4-seed; they realistically have the profile of about a 6 or 7.
3. The SEC, thanks to Mississippi State’s upset win over Tennessee in the league title game, has three teams in the tournament, and ALL of them will get bounced in the first round. Oklahoma State over Tennessee, Washington over Mississippi State, and Butler over a talented but soft LSU.
4. Everyone seems to be talking about West Virginia as a sleeper. Don’t buy it. People fall in love with them because they are “long and athletic”, but they struggle handling the ball and are inconsistent from the perimeter. They get dumped in Round 1 by Dayton.
5. Don’t buy the Memphis hype, either. They’re not nearly as good as they were last year and they haven’t been legitimately tested in months. Conference USA is a joke and has been ever since the Big East poached everyone who was worth a darn.
6. Here are two games that are going to be A LOT CLOSER than their seedings would otherwise indicate: Kansas/North Dakota State and Wake Forest/Cleveland State. I predict that both of these games will be within eight points with less than four minutes to go. Wake can’t shoot, and Kansas is very young.
7. Utah is probably the best team that no one is talking about. They will ride yet another 7’2″ Australian center (Luke Nevill, who follows in the footsteps of current NBA stiff Andrew Bogut) into the Sweet 16, knocking off a wildly inconsistent Arizona team as well as the aforementioned Deacons from Wake.
8. The Sweet Sixteen will be as follows:
Midwest: (1) Louisville, (5) Utah, (3) Kansas — barely, (2) Michigan State.
West: Chalk city. (1) UConn, (4) Washington — because they’ll be playing in the Great Northwest, (3) Missouri, (2) Memphis — who will struggle with (10) Maryland.
East: (1) Pittsburgh, (5) Florida State, (3) Villanova, (2) Duke.
South: Chalk again. (1) UNC, (4) Gonzaga, (3) Syracuse, (2) Oklahoma.
9. Each of my Final Four teams has a FATAL FLAW that, if it rears its ugly head, will destroy their chances of reaching their potential.
Midwest: (2) Michigan State. Tom Izzo is a fantastic coach at tourney time, but if superb wingman Raymar Morgan is less than 100%, Kalin Lucas will be asked to do just a little more than he’s capable, and Louisville will take the region.
West: (1) Connecticut. Put simply, this is a team that relies heavily on the inside presence of 7’3″ center Hasheem Thabeet, and if he finds himself in foul trouble, the Huskies suddenly become a very average defensive outfit. They’re lucky to have an easy draw, but keep an eye on their regional final with Missouri.
East: (1) Pittsburgh. Essentially the same as UConn, but substitute man-child DeJuan Blair for Thabeet. If he’s down, they could get beaten by a huge Florida State team. Blair must play at least 28-30 minutes in order for Pitt to be the team it’s capable of being.
South: (1) North Carolina. Their game begins and ends with point man Ty Lawson. He allows them to play at an incredible rate of speed that is unmatched by anyone in this field. If he’s close to 100%, the Heels are the best team in the tournament and it’s not close. If he’s not, they suddenly become about the sixth or seventh-best.
10. Michigan State and UNC meet in the NCAA Title game, and UNC wins it by the score of 90-78.
Check back on Monday, and we’ll see how poorly I did!
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