Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bracket Thoughts and Predictions

 Thanks to spring break and the start of neuroanatomy this site unfortunately went in to radio silence during one of the most exciting weeks of the year in college basketball.  Only bigger and better things await in the next week with the NCAA tournament, but to quickly recap thie highlights of what happened since I last posted:

UNC laid a beat down on Duke in Chapel Hill to win the ACC regular season title, then Duke returned the favor in Greensboro to nab their 19th ACC tournament title.  Kemba Walker went into beast mode for 5 straight games leading Connecticut to the Big East tournament title.  It seemed to rain buzzer beaters, from Tyler Zeller Princeton to Kemba to Isiah Thomas (bonus points for the Gus Johnson call on that one). Jimmer scored 52.  Harrison Barnes scored 40.  VCU and UAB are dancing while Colorado and VT are playing in the Not Invited Tournament.  Kansas and Ohio State won their conference tournaments and earned #1 seeds.  Seth Greenberg is just confused and Dick Vitale is still yelling somewhere....

Yup, its definitely March.

Anyways I'll lead off with my bracket and follow with my thoughts.
(Click to Enlarge)
For the first time in a while I did my best to pick with my head and not with my heart (no worries though I definitely have a second ESPN bracket which has the Tar Heels cutting down the nets in Houston).  I realize I went a bit chalk with three one seeds in the Final Four, but Ohio State and Kansas are playing very well right now and Pittsburgh has a cushy road to Houston.  The one #1 seed not picked to make is Duke.  I can't claim I'm unbiased when approaching the Blue Devils, but I think Texas has the athleticism to give the Dookies problems out west.

The East bracket is pretty loaded with talent. With Ohio State, Syracuse, Kentucky and UNC it's not lacking for big names either.  Potential Sweet Sixteen pairings of OSU-Kentucky and Syracuse-UNC would be must see TV.  The West may be a shade under the east but also has heavy hitters in UConn, SDSU, Duke, Texas and Arizona.  Tennessee is a bit of a dark horse in the west, as they have amazing athleticism but lack consistency.  In the Southwest, a Purdue-Notre Dame matchup in the Sweet Sixteen would be a treat for basketball purists, but don't be overly surprised if FSU manages to knock off the Irish.  With a healthy Chris Singleton, the Seminoles have the ability to defend Notre Dame on the perimeter.  In the Southeast, I still don't like MSU making the tournament, but their draw sets up pretty well for an Elite Eight run if Tom Izzo can once again capture lighting in a bottle in March.

Players to Watch
East: Jared Sullinger (OSU),  Terrence Jones (UK), Corey Fisher (Vilanova), Demontez Stitt (Clemson), Tu Holloway (Xavier), Scoop Jardine (Syracuse), Isiah Thomas (Washington), Harrison Barnes (UNC)

West: Nolan Smith (Duke), Scotty Hopson (Tennessee), Derrick Williams (Arizona), Jordan Hamilton (Texas), Marcus Denmon (Missouri), Kemba Walker (Connecticut), Lavoy Allen (Temple), Kawhi Leonard (SDSU)

Southwest: Marcus Morris (Kansas), Demetri McCamey (Illinois), Kenneth Faried (Morehead State), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), JaJuan Johnson (Purdue), Chris Singleton (FSU), Ben Hansbrough (ND)

Southeast: Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh), Jacob Pullen (KSU), Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin), THE JIMMER (BYU), Durrell Summers (MSU), Chandler Parsons (Florida)

Five First Round Games Not To Miss
 1) 12 Clemson vs. 5 West Virginia (12:15 Thursday - CBS) - Bit of a risky prediction since Clemson has to win tonight against UAB to even have a chance to play WVU.  Also risky given Clemson's recent tournament history.  Still I think Brad Brownell is an upgrade at coach over Oliver Purnell and Clemson has a strong frontcourt and a talented senior leader at guard in Demontez Stitt.  Look for the Tigers to pull the upset.

2) 13 Morehead State vs. 4 Louisville (1:40 Thursday - TBS) - Louisville is the better team, but Kenneth Faried is the all time NCAA leader in rebounding and could have a field day with Louisville's smaller frontline.  I'm still going with Louisville in a close one.

3) 10 Michigan State vs. 7 UCLA (9:20 Thursday - TBS) - The Bruins finished the season strong and freshman Josh Smith really began to come into his own in the second half of the season.  Next year paired with the Wears, the Bruins could have a pretty formidable frontline.  As disappointing as Michigan State was during the regular season, they still have talent on their roster and final four experience.  I'm going with Izzo over Howland in this one.

4) 9 Villanova vs. 8 George Mason (2:10 Friday - TNT) - The Wildcats limp into the tournament and have to face a team on the opposite end of the spectrum in George Mason.  I don't expect a return trip to the Final Four for the Patriots this year, but I do think they put Villanova out of their misery.

5) 5 Georgetown vs. 12 USC (9:50 Friday - TNT) - Again this is presupposing that the Spartans knock off VCU, but I think Georgetown could be in a bit of trouble with their smaller frontcourt if they have to face Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson.  Assuming Chris Wright is relatively healthy I think the Hoyas squeak this one out in a close one, but if Wright is not himself look for the Trojans to pull the upset.

I hopefully will be updating this blog with thoughts after each round so keep checking back.  This last part is aimed at Carolina fans so if you aren't interested in how I think UNC could manage to win it all then feel free to navigate away.

Also in this scenario this is not called a charge
Okay, well as a Carolina fan I wasn't overly thrilled with UNC's draw.  I hated not picking the Tar Heels to win it all, but they have so many obstacles in their way and are such a young team I don't really think its going to happen.  Still I do believe there is a somewhat realistic draw for the Heels that would allow them a shot at a sixth NCAA banner.  In the first round the Heels should light up LIU, who likes to play uptempo.  They will probably face Washington in the second round, who has become somewhat of a trendy pick to upset Carolina.  Still I think UNC is a better team and will have the home court advantage in Charlotte.  The Sweet Sixteen is where things will have to fall into place for the Heels.  I have a really hard time seeing UNC cracking Syracuse's zone defense, so for UNC to advance I think Xavier will have to upset the Orangemen in the second round then catch Tu Holloway on a mediocre shooting night.  That puts Carolina in the Elite Eight where they probably will face Ohio State.  While perhaps Kentucky would be an easier matchup, I expect Sullinger to wreak havoc on the Wildcats.  Furthermore, despite the fact they are a #1 seed, Ohio State doesn't scare me as much as Syracuse.  Henson and Zeller's length could bother Sullinger and if the Heels can avoid giving Diebler too many open looks from beyond the arc I think the Heels could take down the Buckeyes.  Now in this hypothetical scenario UNC is playing San Diego State in the Final Four who knocked off Texas in the Elite Eight (Duke lost to Tennessee in the second round... hey it's my hypothetical).  Carolina has the athletes to match up with the Aztecs who are a little overwhelmed by the Final Four.  In the Championship Carolina faces off with Pittsburgh who coasted to the Final Four and took out the Purdue Boilermakers in the other semifinal.  Harrison Barnes goes off and UNC gets Pittsburgh playing an uptempo game in which they can't keep up with the Heels.  Strickland is in Gibbs' grill all day and prevents him from getting good looks from beyond the arc.  UNC wins by six.  Party on Franklin Street.

For the record I don't think this happens, nor do I expect it to.  Considering where UNC was last year it would be a victory for the Tar Heels to make the second weekend and have Duke lose at some point.  Still it can't hurt to hope.... HARK THE SOUND!

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