With all due respect to Christmas (which is way overrated anyway, not to mention highly inaccurate), this is the most wonderful time of the year. Baseball is about to start, NBA and NHL playoffs are just around the corner. The NFL Draft is just weeks away. UEFA champions league soccer is rolling. MLS is about to start. Arena Football…oops, never mind. Anyway, that’s so much for a sports fan to take in it’s just terrific. There was one more thing, though, what was it…
Oh, yeah, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Almost forgot that little thing.
By the way, are you telling me that Division 1-A football can’t figure out a way to incorporate the bowls and the BCS into a playoff system like March Madness? Of course, it is all about the money, I get that. But you can’t tell me that a playoff wouldn’t generate more money and excitement than the current system. (Well, you could tell me, but you’d be wrong.) Every other NCAA sport, in every other division has a playoff. For the premier level in the entire company not to is absurd. I will now get off my soapbox. On to the brackets!
MIDWEST: Winning the tournament is all about defense and guard play. Having said that, the Louisville press makes them the second best defensive team in the tournament. They will win this bracket, and they won’t be tested until the Elite Eight, when they will run into a brutal WestVirginia squad that they have already beaten twice. (That old adage that it is tough to beat a team three times in a year? Not true. Happens all the time.)
The perennial 5-12 upset will come out of this region as well. Despite the fact that Arizona shouldn’t even be in the tournament (Penn State? St Mary’s?), they will not only beat Utah, they will beat Wake Forest as well to go to the Sweet 16. Wake is clearly the better team, but they struggle mightily (ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb called them “awful” last night) against 2-3 matchup zones, which is what Arizona runs. The matchup nightmare does them in.
Defending champ Kansas has the talent to go deep, but they are very young and wil run into the Bob THuggins buzz saw out of West Virginia in the second round. THuggins will beat Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans as well. But they have yet to solve Louisville, and will not. The Cardinals go to the Final Four.
WEST: No upsets in this bracket until the Sweet Sixteen, unless you consider 5 seed Purdue over 4 seed Washington an upset. With guard Robbie Hummel fully recovered, the Boilermakers are set for a deep run in the tournament. They will give UConn all it can handle in the Round of 16, but in the end Hasheem Thabeet will be too much. On the bottom, the best and 3rd best defenses in the land square off in what may turn out to be the best game of the entire tournament. Do not miss Memphis vs Missouri in the Round of 16. Missouri seeks to answer the best defense in the country with a great defense of their own. Memphis offensive struggles may hurt them here, since you can’t press if you don’t score, but Memphis has a lot to throw at you. They have the winningest senior class ever in the history of the NCAA. They are the only school ever to win 30 games in a season four years in a row. They have won 25 in a row. Yes, I know they play in Conference USA, but they haven’t lost since December 20th. That is crazy. They will beat Mizzou in a close game, like 24-21, or something. This sets up a great regional final with UConn battling Memphis. Will Memphis have anything left after trading haymakers with Mizzou? I say yes. In another game for the ages, Memphis will beat UConn to go to the Final Four.
EAST: Villanova catches a major break here with the first and second round game being played in Philly. VCU will give them fits in the second round, and on a neutral court, would probably beat them. Sucks to be VCU. The bottom half of this bracket will have some upsets. I like Tubby Smith’s Golden gophers to beat Texas as well. But they will get pounded by Duke in the second round, who will then lose to Villanova. In the top half, one question is, which Tennessee team will show up? I say, doesn’t matter. Whoever wins between them and Oklahoma State is gonna have a mudhole stomped into them by Pitt. Pitt is arguably the most balanced team in the tournament, good guard play, good size, good defense. They could be a threat to win it all. A lot of people are picking Wisconsin to beat Florida State as the 5-12 upset special. Not gonna happen. Winning in the tournament is all about, all together now: Defense and guard play. FSU has the second best point guard in the country in Toney Douglas. He will light up Wisconsin, then he will light up Xavier, then he will be shut down by Pitt. But a good run for the Noles to the Sweet Sixteen. Villanova will beat Pitt by more than you think to go to the Final Four.
SOUTH: Does anybody really think Gonzaga is going to win this bracket? No? OK, just checking. They will get to the Sweet Sixteen, but Western Kentucky will give them a heart attack before they do. The Hilltoppers are tournament tested. They will pull off the 2nd 5-12 upset by pounding Illinois in the first round, and I will give them a punchers chance against Gonzaga, but in the end, the Zags are just too talented. (By the way, is there a more overrated coach in the country than Mark Few? Gonzaga has Final Four Talent this year, but we all know he can’t get them there.) UNC will beat them like they stole something to advance to the Elite Eight. In the bottom half of this bracket, Michigan, which was one of the last teams to get in, will prove the committee right with a deep run. Their 1-3-1 will befuddle Clemson and Oklahoma (OVER-RATED CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP), before they lose to Syracuse. The Orange’s stifling 2-3 matchup plays a lot like a 1-3-1, so it will not confuse them. Syracuse also has the best point guard in the country in Jonny Flynn. Don’t make me say the thing about defense and guard play again.
Let me say this here: I am a big Syracuse fan. I love the Orange, all the way back to the Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly days. I would love to pick them to go to the Final Four. But I just can’t justify it. Carolina is on a mission. The Orange give them a run, but UNC wins by double digits in one of those “closer than the score indicates” games. The Orange keeps it close until about the ten minute mark of the second half, Roy Williams calls a time out and goes Rambo on his seniors, they go on a 15-2 run, and lights out. Tar Heels go to the Final Four.
FINAL FOUR: In a low scoring affair, Louisville beats Memphis. In a high scoring affair, Carolina beats Villanova, maybe pretty badly, by 12-16 points.
CHAMPIONSHIP: I really, really hope I’m wrong here. I hate both of these schools. I hate Rick Pitino. I hate Roy Williams. I hate Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough came back for his senior year for one reason. No, not sorority girls, a championship. The only silver lining here is that he won’t get it. Louisville’s defense is too good. They win their first title since Never Nervous Pervis Ellison and his crew in 1986.
There you go. Now fill out your brackets. And I expect a cut if you win. Oh, and if anybody cares, UConn will beat Oklahoma for the Women’s Championship.