Having picked the University of Pittsburgh as the National Champion, I can now admit that I am nothing more than a homer.
For that matter, anyone who picked a championship game other than UNC vs. UConn is nothing more than a homer, a casual sports fan, or an idealist—swept up by the enticing prospect that any team is capable of bringing the Championship home (the reason the tournament is so popular in the first place).
However, the fact of the matter is UNC and UConn are head and shoulders (literally: Tyler Hansborough and Hasheem Thabeet) above any other team in the (once) 64-team field.
What I realized with the Panther's heart-breaking loss to the Villanova Wildcats late last night (3:30 am for me in Budapest) is that it takes five great players to excel in the tournament and significant depth to win it.
Though I was bilked into believing a few gifted players supported by solid role players, combined with a little team chemistry would be enough, I was wrong. Though Pitt's "Big Three" (Levance Fields, Dejuan Blair and Sam Young) are as good as any in the country, the team, as a whole, is not. Where Pitt's role players, Brad Wannamaker; Tyrell Biggs; Gilbert Brown; Gary McGhee; and Jermaine Dixon, serve as effective parts to a well-oiled machine, UNC and UConn's role players are simply stars in waiting.
Nowadays, having mere working parts is not enough; a championship-caliber team must have star talent across the board, meaning talented players must be willing to lace up their role playing shoes—something that rarely happens these days.
However, two teams have been able to assemble such squads and will soon have a date with each other in the Big Dance, as a result. As much as anyone loves it when the lowly nerd is able to take the hot girl to prom, when two people are this beautiful, the underdog simply stands no chance.
With NBA-caliber players in Hansbrough and Ty Lawson leading the way, UNC has a glut of veritable stars filling not only roles (Danny Green, Bobby Frasor, and Tyler Zeller) but bench positions, too. With the scoring and play-making ability of established veteran talent like Wayne Ellington, Deon Thompson, and Marcus Ginyard enough to bolster any team, UNC is further blessed with blossoming youngsters in Ed Davis, Will Graves, and Larry Drew II. With an able bench constituting a formidable Big East team, the depth and breadth of UNC's talent is rare and undeniable.
The story is much the same with the University of Connecticut. Led by A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet, UConn posses yet another double-double threat in Jeff Adrien and an A.J. Price version 2.0 in young Kemba Walker. Like UNC, they have potential marquee players willing to play a role or come off the bench: Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, Craig Austrie and Gavin Edwards.
The other common thread? Both teams have both great coaches and great recruiters (haha) in Jim Calhoun and Roy Williams.
While Michigan State, Villanova, and Oklahoma are great, formidable opponents, neither is as deep or as star-studded as these two powerhouses.
Once upon a time, I bet against both of these teams. Sorry, Blake Griffin, I'm not doing it again.
Final Prediction: 68-65 UNC over UConn—Hansbrough simply will not be denied.