The bracket has arrived.
Coming into the tournament hot after the Big East Championship, Louisville is a lock for the Elite Eight. There aren't any teams that can slow Terrence Williams, Earl Clark and the rest of the Louisville Cardinals down.
After being embarrassed by Kansas in the Final Four last year, North Carolina will be back in 2009. With Ty Lawson coming back from injury, the Tar Heels will be rejuvenated in what appears to be one of the easiest regions. Expect to see UNC in Detroit.
There are no stats for it, but each year the Michigan State Spartans find a way to win (especially in March). Last year the fifth seeded Spartans made it to the Sweet Sixteen. They made the Final Four in 2005 as the fifth seed as well.
Dont Believe the Hype:
Pittsburgh is 0-3 in games where DeJuan Blair has 4+ fouls. If the Panthers' big man finds himself in foul trouble, he could find himself on the bus back to Pittsburgh. If Pitt can find a way to protect Blair, then watch out, they are a very good team.
Oklahoma is another team that may look like a powerhouse, but don't let the celebrity of Blake Griffin fool you. Last year Kansas State had the Big XII, and NCAA, Player of the Year in Michael Beasley. Along with a quick explosive guard in Bill Walker, they didn't make it past the second round.
The Demon Deacons of Wake Forest are a force to be reckoned with. With wins against North Carolina, Duke, Boston College, Florida State, Clemson and Maryland the 24-5 Deacs are very tough this year. It would not be surprising to see the Deacons in the Elite Eight.
Purdue was the pre-season favorite for the Big Ten, but after an injury to sophomore standout Robbie Hummel, Purdue lost games to Penn State, Ohio State and Illinois. Hummel is now back, and the Boilermakers are the 2009 Big Ten Tournament Champions. They are getting hot and healthy at the right time, I have them in my Elite Eight.
Missouri plays in the same conference as Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Texas A&M. Each one of those teams is in the tournament, one of those teams has the player of the year, and one of those teams are the defending National Champs.
Who won the conference tournament? Mizzou. The Tigers have beat Oklahoma State and Texas on the road, as well as Oklahoma at home. The Tigers are a balanced team. Their high flying offense averages about 82 points a game, while their defense only allows about 67 points per game.
Vilanova is a tough team to figure out. They have a strong record overall at 26-7, yet are only 3-4 against the top 25. The Wildcats finished 13-5 in the Big East, this years toughest conference. Villanova can shoot the three (36.8%), so if they start making shots, other teams will have a tough time slowing down the Wildcats.
Western Kentucky made the Sweet Sixteen last year. Tyrone Brazleton isn't on the team this year, but the Hilltoppers have a very able replacement. A.J. Slaughter is averaging 15.8 ppg, and is shooting 36.8 percent from three. Look for Slaughter to take the Hilltoppers deep into the tournament.
Since Chester Frazier had surgery on his hand, the Illini have struggled. Losing their assists and steals leader can do that to a team. I don't see how WKU will struggle with them, and a win would set up a potential second round matchup with Gonzaga.
As for Gonzaga, I'm unsure if they'll even make it out of the first round. In both '07 and '08 the Bulldogs were bounced out of the tournament on the first day.
Syracuse has come on strong after a valiant showing in the Big East Tournament. After going six overtimes with UConn, the Orange emerged victorious 127-117. As if six weren't enough, the Orange played one more the next day. They took West Virginia into overtime and won 74-69. As if beating UConn and West Virginia weren't enough, the Orange went on to battle with the Louisville Cardinals. They lost 76-66, but the score doesn't do 'Cuse much justice, the game was much closer. Syracuse had an eight point lead at half.
The Orange have some players too. Johnny Flynn averages 17.6 ppg and 6.7 apg, Eric Devendorf contributes another 15.9 ppg, and Paul Harris rounds out the lineup with 12.6 ppg and 7.9 rpg. I have the Orange in the Elite Eight, they're getting hot at the right time, and have all the players needed to make a run.
Louisville, Wake , Kansas, Michigan St, Connecticut, Purdue, Missouri, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Villanova, Texas, North Carolina, Western Kentucky, Syracuse and Oklahoma
Louisville, Michigan State, Purdue, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Villanova, North Carolina and Syracuse
Louisville, Memphis, Villanova and North Carolina