Resetting The Brackets

March 26, 2010

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As we approach the Sweet Sixteen and Regional Finals, two things stand out in my mind. First, beware the mid- majors; and second, why are they even making Duke play?

As far as the non-mid-majors are concerned, I am most surprised by the team I one week ago dubbed “vastly overrated.” Third-seeded Baylor has proved worthy of its seeding (keep in mind though, a three-seed in the south is like a six in the East or Midwest) and now carries my hopes of finishing Duke if Purdue cannot get it done. I think Purdue has been tremendously overlooked as a tournament contender, and probably benefited from that status to last longer in the south. Ideally, I would like to see St. Mary’s defeat Baylor, but I know that is unlikely and also counterproductive to my overall goal of seeing anyone but Duke proceed to Indianapolis in the south region of this year’s tournament bracket.

Looking ahead this week, below are my predictions as to who I believe will be filling those coveted four positions Sunday evening.

EAST

(12) Cornell and (11) Washington are far better than I had anticipated. However, neither team is talented enough to take down the likes of (1) Kentucky or (2) West Virginia. Washington has greater opportunity to advance strictly because Quincy Pondexter has such an overwhelming presence on the court. An on- day for him and an off for the Mountaineers could lead to another victory for the Huskies.

That does not mean Kentucky should not fear the Big Red. A team with everything to prove (and what seemed to be an easy defeat of veteran Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team) can easily lead to upset. In this instance though, I think the Cornell run will likely stop the minute they find themselves matched up with future NBA stars, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. John Calipari’s biggest mistake though, would be to enter this game anything less than prepared.

In the 1 vs. 2 matchup I foresee, I predict Kentucky coming out on top. The Wildcats’ talent is unparalleled, and it was the fact that Calipari left a bad taste in the mouths of many, in addition to UK’s youth, that swayed popular opinion to Kansas as the consensus pick for 2010 National Champion (Calipari’s pariah status also led Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings to be named SEC Coach of the Year). I never believed the Jayhawks to be the next national champions because they were unbalanced at either ends of the court. Kentucky is dangerous competition for any team in the nation right now because they are playing well at all angles. So are the Mountaineers. This matchup will be the most difficult of any in the Regional Finals and although I believe the ‘Cats have a better chance of coming out on top, I am far from certain in that calculation.

WEST

I know I just said that whole thing about “beware the mid-majors” but truthfully, we are too far into the tournament for the mid-major teams to make all that much noise. Sure, there will be at least one (maybe two) surprises heading into the Elite; but when Sunday evening rolls around, the phrase “mid- major” will be virtually void from tournament talk.

(6) Xavier beat Minnesota and Pitt. Solid and impressive wins. Well, not that impressive. Xavier is no stranger to the Sweet Sixteen and it is no shock that it made it this far. What will be a shock though, is if the Musketeers upset heavily favored Kansas State (2). Although, I cannot shake this feeling that K-State is just a little too good to be true.

(1) Syracuse playing (5) Butler brings one thing to mind. “Defense wins ball games.” I have always replaced ‘defense’ with ‘free throws’ because it is absolutely true…anybody watch the Northern Iowa-Kansas upset? Butler has a sound offense but Syracuse is a heavy-D team that is playing its best defensive game in the tournament. The Bulldogs are going to put up a decent fight but will break under pressure.

As well as Syracuse has been playing, it is difficult for me to say the Orange will fall to the Wildcats. As far as star power goes, Wesley Johnson is one of the most well-rounded players in the nation. Kansas State does not boast a leader as powerful, although K-State is not lacking in depth or talent. For no reason other than I want to see them in the Final Four, I pick the Wildcats to advance. I realize this is not convincing evidence, but I have yet to truly convince myself.

MIDWEST

(6) Tennessee may appear to be a better team than you may have thought. Don’t let them fool you. They cake-walked into the second round…wait a minute, they cake-walked out of the second-round too. San Diego State and Ohio are not proving you Final Four worthy in my book, Bruce Pearl (not that you ever were). Make no mistake, I would be perfectly happy seeing the Vols take out (2) Ohio State; but seeing how I doubted UT’s ability to even make it into the Sweet Sixteen, I’m pretty sure OSU will walk away with this win.

I may be asking too much of the tournament gods to see the Northern Iowa Panthers upset another team, but I am going to anyway–mainly because it is a reasonable request. Michigan State would be my pick had Kalin Lucas not become injured against Maryland. Lucas’ torn Achilles just may be the proverbial weak heel for the Spartans as well. The Spartans are not as talented as MSU tournament teams in the past. The injury is a major blow and the tremendous amount of pressure brought by tournament games makes a Spartan team recovery seem difficult.

(9) Northern Iowa took down Kansas, the President’s pick for title winner. Surely they could take down Evan Turner’s Buckeyes, right? If any team standing in the Midwest can take down Ohio State, it is the Panthers. The top- three defense will be able to run down OSU’s limited bench, but do they have enough man power to take down Turner? If this game happens, that will be the biggest factor. I think Northern Iowa has a better chance than the Spartans, but I doubt the Panthers can remain rolling on the upset train into the Final Four.

SOUTH

Dear Purdue,

End this conspiracy, please. Without Robbie Hummel most of the nation has discarded you and although that is unfair, you may return an American Hero (in our eyes at least) if you put an end to this ridiculous and purposeful attempt at Duke’s Final Four advancement.

(3) Baylor may defeat (10) St. Mary’s, but I still find reasons to believe the Gaels may advance. I realize that a win over Villanova is hardly a defense as it faded late in the year and just barely beat Robert Morris, but I still like to believe that St. Mary’s proved itself in the first two rounds.

Who am I kidding? I just do not trust Baylor to get the job done. Baylor will probably beat St. Mary’s but I just cannot leave the important duty of restoring justice to the 2010 NCAA tournament up to either team.

A heavy weight has been cast upon your shoulders, Boilermakers. I beg you, reach deep into your bench and use it. E’Twan Moore, show up for the ENTIRE game and guide your team around the perimeter. If you stifle the Blue Devils with your superior defense you will be tournament heroes…no matter how many more teams Northern Iowa upsets.


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