March 23, 2012
Last night’s NCAA Tournament games went terribly wrong for both my picks and my bracket. I went 1-3 with my picks last night, so of course I have to try and regain some dignity with a better showing in this version. I went heavy on the Big Ten yesterday, and the pain they put me through leaves me wondering if I can trust Indiana. There are three double-digit seeds playing tonight which make things very interesting as well. Without further delay, here are my (most likely incorrect) picks for tonight.
Xavier vs. Baylor
Xavier pulled a small upset over Notre Dame to start the tournament, then took down Cinderella hopeful Lehigh in the second round. They now get their toughest test to date in Baylor, while ironically being the toughest test Baylor has faced in the NCAA Tournament as well. This game should be an absolute shootout, with both teams having scored 80 points on multiple occasions. One advantage Baylor will have is their blinding neon green uniforms they are wearing during the tournament. In all honesty though, I do think Baylor is the better team and should find a way to advance to the Elite Eight.
Ohio vs. North Carolina
Speaking of high scoring, there is only one team in the nation that has scored more PPG than North Carolina. That may take a hit this game though, with point guard Kendall Marshall expected to miss the game after having wrist surgery. Even more importantly, Ohio thrives on steals, and the Tar Heels will need to take extra care of the ball without Marshall in the game. Ohio isn’t nearly as explosive on offense, but they have proven deadly for teams like Michigan and South Florida, who have fallen on Ohio’s trip to the Sweet 16. Everyone likes to root for the underdog, but I can’t imagine Ohio making it past North Carolina. If North Carolina doesn’t come ready to play, which includes stopping D.J. Cooper, Marshall could have a lot longer to rest before their next game. While Ohio has shown that the MAC shouldn’t be taken lightly, I will take North Carolina to take care of business.
Indiana vs. Kentucky
This isn’t the final game of the night, but make no mistake about it, this game is the main event. These two historic basketball programs will give us a rematch of an amazing game earlier this season. Then unranked Indiana gave then #1 Kentucky their first (and only) loss of the regular season on a ridiculous buzzer beater, winning 73-72. Kentucky, now the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, would like nothing more than to avenge that loss when it matters most. I stuck with the Big Ten all day yesterday and said I think it was the toughest conference in the nation this year. The Wildcats will truly be tested by Indiana who, sticking with the trend in all of these games, can score at will. Kentucky will need Anthony Davis to take over this game and prove why he is the best player in college basketball. I think this game will come down to the wire, but Kentucky gets the nod from me and will play in the Elite Eight.
North Carolina State vs. Kansas
With the amount of times I have mentioned high scoring teams in this column, maybe defense doesn’t win championships. North Carolina State and Kansas both average scoring in the mid 70’s, and have the ability to explode to as high as 100 in Kansas’ case. With that being said, the Jayhawks struggled mightily against Purdue in the last round, coming dangerously close to a loss. Add to that a shocking loss to VCU last NCAA Tournament, and I don’t think they will come into this game assuming anything. Nor should they, as NC State has beaten San Diego State (predicted to be a potential Cinderella) and Georgetown on their way to the Sweet 16. Kansas is in a much higher class than the two aforementioned teams, however, and will look to run the court for quick baskets on the Wolfpack. I hate to have all three high seeds lose in my picks, but I just don’t think they will win tonight. I will take Kansas and if last night was any foreshadowing, we will have a high-seeded Elite Eight!
March 22, 2012
The NCAA Tournament is back underway tonight and we will find out the first 4 teams going to the Elite 8. These games have your expected #1 seeds in Syracuse and Michigan State as well as #6 Cincinnati and #7 Florida making it further than I suspect most people had them going in their bracket. In this post I will look to predict the unpredictable and pick the winners of tonight’s games.
Wisconsin vs. Syracuse
The first of 3 Big Ten vs. Big East matchups tonight, showing how well both conferences have been doing in the tournament so far. Syracuse has continued to play dominant despite not having Fab Melo for the entire NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin showed how good they can be by beating a Vanderbilt team many people saw as a dangerous draw in this tournament. While Wisconsin has 9 losses on season, 7 came against ranked teams, and the other 2 came against Iowa, who clearly gave them matchup problems. Syracuse is a long, up-tempo team that likes to push the ball and get quick points. Wisconsin is your typical Bo Ryan team, stressing tough defense and rebounding. While Syracuse is the favorite in this game, I like Wisconsin in the upset.
Louisville vs. Michigan State
This game will be dominated by two coaches who know what it takes to win in the NCAA Tournament. Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo have been to the NCAA Tournament a combined 30 times, making the Final Four 11 times and both having won a National Championship. Michigan State has had a pretty easy road thus far as a number one seed, but both teams had a scare last round. Louisville beat New Mexico 59-56, while Michigan State needed a late run to put away St. Louis, 65-61. These two teams met in 2009 in the Elite Eight, with Michigan State winning that game 64-52. While these two teams are very different than in 2009, I still think Michigan State will win this game and send the Cardinals home sooner than they were hoping.
Cincinnati vs. Ohio State
Cincinnati wrecked a lot of brackets (including my own) when they upset Florida State on Sunday. They would shock even more people if they continued their streak with a win against Ohio State. The Buckeyes came into the season with high expectations, being ranked 3rd overall in the nation. Having to battle in the Big Ten, the toughest conference in basketball this season in my opinion, gave them a few more losses than predicted, but made them a tougher team to beat. The Bearcats will gladly accept that challenge, having beat tough teams such as Marquette and Syracuse earlier this season. However, I do think Ohio State will be going to the Elite Eight, but not without a fight.
Florida vs. Marquette
While there is no Big Ten team in this game, the Big East has yet another team playing tonight in Marquette. Marquette can score at will, averaging almost 76 ppg. Florida hasn’t been finding it hard to score either, putting up 84 in their last game against Norfolk State. Florida has 10 losses on the year, but 5 came against Top 3 opponents, so Marquette will have their hands full. Florida has won both of their NCAA Tournament games in blowout fashion, while Marquette had a big win in the first round, and a 9 point victory in their last game. That being said, Florida’s opponents were much easier in my opinion and I think Marquette is the final Elite Eight team decided tonight.
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.