Sunday, March 11, 2007

Round Up the Usual Suspects in Indianapolis

This was a year for ugly stepsisters. The NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee rewarded George Mason's historic run to the Final Four in 2006 by attempting to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.

So welcome ultra-dull major conference also-rans Purdue, Illinois and Arkansas to the field of 65. Drexel, Air Force, Missouri State-go the NIT without your suppers. We're cutting up serious money here, fellas. Think of the weight rooms we've got to fund.

OK, it was a tough year to pick a field since even the top 4 seeds have horrific blots on their escutcheons (Kansas lost to Oral Roberts at home, Florida spent the last two weeks of February with its sneaker laces tied together). But whenever it came down to a coin flip, the BCS-football factory conferences got the call over the smaller schools. This isn't merely unjust, it's bad marketing. Everyone loves an underdog. Few outside West Lafayette, Ind. love the Boilermakers. You'd think someone at CBS would make this point to Billy Packer-say by firing his ass.

One more question for the committee. If Florida was the overall number one seed, how come it doesn't play the winner of the play-in game? Presumably Florida A & M and Niagara were seeded 64-65, but Kansas, seeded 4th overall, gets the winner as its first-round patsy?

As anyone at Florida State or Syracuse will tell you, loudly, there are only two REAL seeds in the tourney-In and Out. Since a team must win all its game to be national champ, seeding has a most minor effect on the champ's destiny. Sooner or later, the victors face what appears to be a bad matchup, and win anyway. Happens every year.

Here are some off the cuff predictions. Recent scholarly research on tournament handicapping has confirmed what I've known for decades. The very worst way to pick a successful bracket entry is to watch a great deal of college basketball. You hockey fans better jump on your office pools with both feet.


There's an ironclad tournament rule. If the ACC champion is from the state of North Carolina, it gets a number one seed and plays its first two games inside the state. North Carolina, qualifying on both counts is the first seed and plays its first two games in Winston-Salem.

The favors end there. Put it this way. The next 5 seeds in the East all begin with reasonable expectations of AT LEAST making the Final Four. Texas has Celtic-to-be Kevin Durant, who looks like he'll be the next George Gervin, and it's a 4. Vanderbilt, 2nd in the SEC, is a 6. USC and Washington St., tied for regular-season 2nd in the Pac-10, are 5th and 3rd respectively.

Oh, I forget. Georgetown, the Big East champ, is the 2. The Hoyas were the most consistently impressive team I watched this season, admitting I never really start paying attention to basketball until after the Super Bowl. Despite the danger of using my own eyes, they're the choice here to reach Atlanta from the East.

2nd choice: Texas

Potentially Irritating Underdog: George Washington


This is the region of the other candidate to be Danny Ainge's dream date at the draft, Ohio St.'s Greg Oden. The Buckeye center who's passing for 19 despite looking much older than Doc Rivers, played well with one hand for most of the year. Now that his other has healed, the young? man has begun to assert himself, eating offenses alive.

Nobody scored over 55 points against OSU in the Big Ten tourney. They've beaten Wisconsin twice in two weeks. Their region is chock-full of flawed rivals. Texas A & M's offense went south in the Big 12 tourney, Virginia is unbeatable in the shadow of Monticello and mediocre everywhere else, while Louisville and Tennessee wax invincible and invisible in 10 minute stretches of almost every game.

This leaves Memphis, owner of the nation's longest winning streak. No program in history has turned turtle in the tourney as often as Memphis. I made a vow never to pick them again in 1986. So far, I've stuck to it. So Ohio State it is.

2nd choice: Memphis
Potentially Irritating Underdog: Xavier


Florida is the number one seed here. Ohio State is number one in the South. And they wonder why our children can't find Europe on a map.

An Elite Eight matchup between Florida and 2 seed Wisconsin would be amusing if nothing. Florida can't win without scoring, and Wisconsin wins a lot without ever scoring. There'd be serious coachly brain damage whoever won.

But it won't happen, nor will the Gators repeat as national champs. They're a fine team, but not the stuff historic achievement is made of. For reasons best described as "blind guessing" this handicapper foresees Maryland upsetting Florida in the round of 16.

The best way to beat a top defense is to have guards who can create their own shots and lack the slightest degree of conscience. By coincidence, that's just what 3 seed Oregon possesses. They're the closest thing to an "upset" Final Four pick I could find.

2nd choice: Wisconsin
Potentially Irritating Underdog: Winner of 7-10 UNLV-Georgia Tech first rounder.


The second-most consistently impressive team I watched this season was Kansas. Their games with Texas were superb entertainment, and when in doubt, this expert chooses clubs which give him pleasure. It's a more valid approach than the RPI.

Ben Rowland's teams seldom give me pleasure. They win a great many games, however, and UCLA will have the added bonus of staying in its own time zone, indeed, its own state, throughout the regional. If the Bruins spent the past week working on their Wiltesque free throw shooting, they should advance to Atlanta, where they'd be the chalk to win the entire shebang.

Hey, there's an original angle for you. Pick UCLA! You won't find raw guts like that in every sports blog, gang.

2nd choice: Kansas
Potentially Irritating Underdog: Villanova

Bonus guess: You know that "traditional" 12 over 5 upset you'll hear about until your ears bleed this week? None will happen this year.

Double Bonus Guess: Take Albany and the points over UVa.


Post a Comment

<< Home