March 19, 2013
NCAA March Madness is officially upon us as our minds, and our desks, are now cluttered with a plethora of brackets.
With bragging rights on the line for the next year, selecting the perfect upsets along the way play a huge factor in the end result.
Everyone loves an underdog and this year the field of 68 is as wide open as it’s ever been. Say what you want in regards to the way the NCAA governs college athletics, the NCAA basketball tournament is the cat’s meow.
The parity in men’s college basketball is gorgeous and the look of Cinderella has now changed. No longer does a Cinderella have to have a lower seed or be from a small conference. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
This article highlights one Cinderella in each region and the results may surprise. No, as a No. 1 seed Gonzaga is not one of them. They have graduated from the Cinderella ranks over the past decade. So too has Butler, so don’t be confused when they don’t make the list. These two schools are the exemplary models of what is right in college basketball.
With that being said, let’s find out just which schools look to become the darlings of the college basketball world.
The South Region: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Surprise, surprise, a team from the Big Ten, which was the best conference in the country, ends up as a Cinderella in the tournament. Don’t be.
After a strong start to their season and a favorable ranking in the national polls, the Minnesota Golden Gophers stumbled to a 20-12 record. Their biggest win of the season against then No. 1 Indiana is what punched their ticket to the dance.
Even with an 11 seed, the Golden Gophers aren’t to be taken lightly in the tournament. They have a skilled big man in Trevor Mbakwe, a talented point guard in Andre Hollins and an all-world flyer in Rodney Williams. When they are focused on the task at hand, they are as difficult to beat as any team in the country.
Their first game is up against UCLA, and with a victory they would most likely face the Florida Gators. This isn’t putting the horse before the cart, but the Golden Gophers are capable of beating both of these teams.
Remember, a trip to the Sweet 16 and a Cinderella is born. Think twice before you write-off Minnesota.
The East Region: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Yes, the UNLV Rebels are ranked a No. 5 seed, but everyone will be rooting for them in less than a week.
They finished the season third in a Mountain West Conference that received five nods from the committee this March. The conference is a prime example of why college basketball is tough across the board. The respect earned by the Mountain West this season is phenomenal.
UNLV is a scrappy team that has one of the best freshmen in the land. Anthony Bennett is a name that fans from sea to shining sea will be talking about soon enough. He averaged 16.1 points/game this season to go along with 8.1 rebounds.
Long forgotten on the college hoops scene no more, UNLV will be rolling.
The West Region: Wichita State Shockers
That means that they’ll be the most rested team in the tournament. Another bonus, foul trouble doesn’t affect them like it would many others. That kind of depth gives the advantage to the Shockers, especially in a situation where overtime may occur.
They’re a true team where every kid on the team is an intricate piece to the puzzle. They’re a team that outsiders can easily become fond of quickly.
The Midwest Region: St. Louis Billikens
Though they may be a No. 4 seed, the St. Louis Billikens are a real Cinderella. They took the A-10 Conference over the likes of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler this season.
How did they do so when it seems they just came into the national spotlight?
Well, for starters they won 15-of-16 to end the season, which earned them such a pleasant seed. They beat ranked VCU and Butler all four times they played them this season.
They also beat New Mexico, who just so happens to be the No. 3 seed in the West Region this season.
To put it lightly—they fear none. A Sweet 16 victory over the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals would prove that last statement. Don’t be surprised when that happens.
March 5, 2012
As a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, one of the great privileges I have is voting for the organization’s All-American college basketball team. Below were my selections for the 2011-12 season.
Harrison Barnes (North Carolina) – The Tarheels have any number of players that could be considered for All-American status, but my nod goes to Barnes. Barnes is a downright freakishly athletic player and while some critics will complain that he needs to average more than five rebounds as a 6’8” forward, he’s a mismatch nightmare and can step out and hit three-pointers. He makes 40% of them and also averages 17 points a game – doing all of that for the ACC’s regular season championship team is good enough for me.
Anthony Davis (Kentucky) – As a true freshman for the Wildcats, Davis has been as good as advertised. His 15 points and ten rebounds per game only scratch the surface, though. Davis may be the best defensive player in the country, which for a first-year player is incredibly rare. He also leads the nation in blocked shots with nearly five per game and could lead Kentucky to yet another deep NCAA Tournament run.
Marcus Denmon (Missouri) – Denmon is the second leading scorer in the Big 12 and has the Missouri Tigers gunning for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The senior is one of those players who have gotten better each year and in 2011-12, he is averaging career highs in scoring, rebounding, and assists.
Draymond Green (Michigan State) – The Spartans’ promotional mailer to voters says that Green is the most versatile player in the country. Head coach Tom Izzo says he’s never had a player that’s been asked to do as much as him. Green has had 20 points, ten rebounds, and five assists in five games this year (more than anyone else in Division I) so all of that sounds about right to me.
Darius Johnson-Odom (Marquette) – Marquette has surprised fans all season and Darius Johnson-Odom has been a huge reason why the Golden Eagles were in the top ten heading into the weekend. Jae Crowder could be the better overall player for Marquette, but he’s disappeared in several games this season and Johnson-Odom is the motor that makes the team go.
Kevin Jones (West Virginia) – Playing for NCAA bubble team West Virginia, Jones hasn’t gotten the recognition he’s deserved. But he’s been unquestionably the best player in the Big East, one of the toughest conferences in the country. And in averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game, he may be the best player in all of America.
Doug McDermott (Creighton) – Players from mid majors don’t generally receive a ton of respect when it comes to All-American teams, but McDermott clearly deserves the honor. At more than 23 points a game, he’s the third leading scorer in all of college basketball and Creighton is a top 25 team with only five losses heading into this past weekend.
Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State) – Moultrie is in a similar position as Jones. He’s been largely ignored playing for unranked Mississippi State, but is also one of the top players in his conference. Moultrie is the leading rebounder in the SEC and the fourth leading scorer. He could have the Bulldogs back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
Thomas Robinson (Kansas) – Robinson not only got my vote to represent the All-American team, but was my Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year selection as well. The forward averages just under 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Kansas Jayhawks, a top five team. The thing I like most about Robinson, though, is that he’s played even better against big time opponents. In five games with top ten foes in Duke, Missouri, and Baylor, he’s averaged 23.4 points and 13 rebounds.
Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) – Sullinger has disappeared in some recent games against Wisconsin and Illinois, but his 17 points and nine rebounds per contest are clearly enough for All-American status. He is in the top three in both scoring and rebounding in the Big Ten this season and his Buckeyes are one of the best teams in the country.