While, I’d love to share all of my final four picks, upset selections, and cinderellas with you guys, March Madness is a fund-raiser for me, not a charity event. Instead, I’ll break down the teams in the brackets and lay out what they need to do to win. From there you can decide how you will fill out your bracket. While I generally put together a few brackets, I’ll post my #1 bracket on Thursday at noon, moreso, so you have something to mock when it totally blows up thanks to Akron or Hampton.
#1: Ohio St.:
Ohio State has the best inside-outside game in the nation. They put sharpshooter Jon Diebler and his 51% 3-point percentage on the same side as freshman phenom Jared Sullinger and dare you to pick your poison. If you double Sullinger, Diebler will light you up… If you leave Sullinger underneath one-on-one you might as well count the two points. Add to that, their best scorer is William Buford and the Buckeyes will be a tough out. They only go 7 deep though and if their bigs get into foul trouble, may struggle. Added to that, they are in the toughest bracket in the tournament and their dreams could fade far from Houston.
#2: North Carolina:
Carolina loves to run and has the talent to do so. Freshman Harrison Barnes has been living up to his immense hype as of late and they seemed to get hot at the right time. That came to a screeching halt in the ACC tournament when they made a habit of spotting teams big leads and trying to come back, which is difficult as they aren’t a great 3-point shooting team. They were never in the game against Duke and struggle when they don’t make an effort on defense. They have the talent to get to Houston, whether or not they will show up on D will tell the story.
Another big-name, big-talent team in the East Region, the Orangemen started D’ing up late in the season and went to a whole new level before falling to Kemba Walker and UCONN in the meat-grinder known as the Big East tournament. They will go as far as their 2-3 zone and Scoop Jardine leads them. A team will need to hit shots from the perimeter to beat them.
By adding Kentucky to this bracket, it was as if the selection committee was picking teams at recess. They picked the big names first, put them all in the East, and then everyone else got to take what was left. Kentucky ended the season on a tear and ripped through the SEC tournament and is playing with a lot of confidence right now. Not sure how they got a #4 seed while Florida, who they drilled, got a #2, but that’s the committee for you. A sweet sixteen matchup with Ohio State seems like punishment, but they have the talent to take down the Bucks.
#5: West Virginia:
For a team that lost a lot of talent from last year, the Mountaineers had a heck of a season. They played one of the harder schedules in the country and still won twenty games. They need guard Truck Bryant to be on his game and production out of their bench. If Truck stalls or they have to rely solely on their starting five, it could be a short stay for West Virginia. On the flipside, a deep run isn’t out of the question either.
Xavier guard Tu Holloway is a treat to watch and as exciting as anyone in the tournament. They are a very good team despite their short stay in the A-10 tournament. They don’t go very deep, but have quality at nearly every position. Maybe the early exit in the A-10 will have them ready to roll in the big dance. They will need to avoid getting down early as their perimeter shooting is poor and it will be a big mountain to climb to get back into games.
The Huskies thrive in transition and seem their best amid chaos. They can score with the best of ‘em, but they are a little soft on the inside. Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning will get their points, but they will need help and an up-tempo pace to survive. If they get dragged into a slow, methodical game against a good team, they will struggle and may find themselves on a plane back home.
#8: George Mason:
The darlings of 2006 are still trying to repeat that improbably final four run. Unfortunately for them, they were given a difficult seed and matchup, at least on paper. Looking at the lineups, Villanova does a lot of what the Patriots do, they just do it better. However, they don’t play the games on paper, and with how terrible ‘Nova is playing as of late, most people are picking them to win. They certainly could as they take care of the ball and won’t beat themselves.
‘Nova looks flat-out lost. Hard to imagine a team that is so talented looking so bad, but that’s the case. They go as their guards go, and with seemingly all of them in a slump, they may not go far. Still they are good enough to win a game on talent alone… whether or not they actually do remains to be seen.
Most people aren’t sure how Georgia made the tournament, let alone got a #10 seed, but they did. They have struggled in crunch time this year, but they have a balanced scoring lineup and love to bang. They could easily outmuscle teams on the inside, but inexplicably fall in love with the 3-point shot too much (something they struggle with). If they allow a team to dictate the pace, they are dead, if not, they could surprise.
Marquette is another team that loves to run, they don’t play much defense, but that formula has been good enough to get ‘em into the dance. They also get to the foul line a ton, but aren’t too adept at hitting them when they do. Like most question mark teams, they will go as far as their shooting leads them. If they run into a team that can limit possessions and slow the game, they are probably cooked.
In the “first four” the Tigers had no trouble dismantling a team that had no business anywhere near the NCAA tournament in UAB. Now the competition steps up and they have to take on West Virginia. They struggle against talented frontcourts, and didn’t get to Tampa until 4am today, leaving 20 hours before their next game. However they are no doubt playing well and an upset isn’t out of the question.
This is a Princeton team in name only. They run a modified “Princeton” offense, playing more straight up without forwards popping out to hit threes. This limits their ability to out-execute better teams (like Kentucky). Their 3’s can keep them in games if they are falling, otherwise there is a good possibility they get drilled by a longer, more-athletic team.
#14: Indiana State:
The Sycamores win with defense and taking care of the ball. The usually strong MVC was down this season, which is why a team as unheralded as Indiana State was able to win the conference title. They can’t score though, and unless Larry Bird comes back, I don’t see them having the ability to hang around with Syracuse.
#15: Long Island:
The Blackbirds will run and run and run some more. They haven’t met a shot they didn’t like and make enough to dominate the Northeast Conference. They average 83 points a game and bang the boards to the tune of an impressive 42 rebounds per game. They aren’t good enough to hang with the elite and have no chance to advance with a horrendous matchup against North Carolina, but they should provide some fun on their way out. Ultimately, while their 6’7 bangers can hang in the Northeast, they will get dominated against the size of North Carolina.
#16: Texas-San Antonio/Alabama St.:
The Winner of this play-in first round game gets the privilege of traveling to Cleveland to take on the tournament’s #1 overall seed. Texas-San Antonio comes into the game at 19-13 as Southland conference champion. Alabama State on the other hand finished with a 17-17 record and won the SWAC. Without spending too much time on either of these teams, Texas-San Antonio has a player in Devin Gibson that is as exciting to watch as they come. He deserves a chance to show himself on the big stage. It won’t change the outcome of the game, but the do-it-all guard is averaging 17/5.4/5.6 and would provide a few highlights for the Roadrunner fans to remember. Alabama State doesn’t have a Devin Gibson, but they have won 12 of their last 13, including a buzzer beater to put them in the dance. They should be happy to be here, but unfortunately I think their road ends in Dayton a few days early.