The field of 65 is set. The photocopiers are spitting out brackets. Offices all over the nation are filled with distracted employees. Ah yes, the Madness has begun.
The NCAA Tournament is an event of epic proportions. It brings people together in a completely unique way, and builds levels of excitement that can only go up as the field goes down. 65 to 32. 32 to the Sweet 16. Then, to the Elite 8, which reveals the best team from each region of the bracket, the Final Four. The Final Four produces the top two teams, and sends them to the National Championship.
Anyone unexcited by that simple process is not a true sports fan. It truly is a captivating blur of a playoff—64 gritty single-elimination match-ups in 21 days. Turn away and you’re sure to miss something amazing.
Across the nation, those lucky enough to have their schools selected by the committee engage in parties of pride. Who cheers the loudest and with the most passion becomes a side-game. Rivalries kick into overdrive, and emotions constantly run high.
Intense bracket competitions consume minds nationwide, from die-hard basketball enthusiasts to girls who have never seen a game and like the name ‘Gonzaga.' Strategies are formed, and thrown out. Everyone seems to think they’re on a golden path to the Championship, and the subsequent office pool...until the games begin.
So what can you expect from the 2010 NCAA Tournament? Well, as always, expect excitement. Expect the unexpected. Expect a great show. Expect March Madness, which means, above all else, an unforgettable three-week party at a remarkable time of the year.
Need specific bracket expectations? Like which teams will highlight their respective seeds? From 16 to 1, these are the teams at each seed with the best chance to win the Big Dance...or at least advance.
Hold your horses on reliving history, America. Though the 2005 Vermont Catamounts staged an unbelievable overtime upset over Syracuse, Jim Boeheim’s Orange are 15-3 in a tough Big East this year. So while this may be the best matchup between a 16 and a top-seed, it’s clearly the worst possible matchup for UVM.
The Catamounts, led by Coach Mike Lonergan, anticipated a 14 or 15 seed after winning the America East tournament over Boston University. But a reunion was clearly in the cards. This time, however, it’s not only two completely different squads than five years ago—it’s also a completely different court.
In ’05, the upset was staged at the DCU Center in Worcester, fairly neutral ground for the first-round match. This year, the rematch will be held at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, essentially the Orange’s backyard.
Add to that the fact that Syracuse defeated Georgetown, Villanova, and West Virginia this season, and the fact that Vermont lost twice to Stony Brook, and it’s game-set-match.
“The 16 seed is going to beat a No. 1 someday," Vermont junior forward Evan Fjeld told the Boston Globe. “Why not Friday?"
They’ll need that confidence and more to consistently play on the same level as the Orange, never mind outplay them. Expect the Catamounts to be surmounted by 14 points as Syracuse cruises on.
Tempting as it may be to pick Morgan State, North Texas, and Robert Morris, consider that these teams are playing West Virginia, Kansas State, and Villanova, respectively. Therefore, the best bet for 15 seeds is UC Santa Barbara against Ohio State in the Midwest Region.
OK, maybe they should just settle for “coolest name” of the 15 seeds, because the Gauchos honestly have no shot at slowing down a strong Buckeye team. Sure, they finished strong as Big West Champions, but Ohio State finished stronger as Big Ten Champions.
Ohio State has the lowest RPI of the four No. 2 seeds, and they are definitely one of the least-favored to go the distance. But they’ll at least advance to the second or third round, passing by Santa Barbara’s already-elated Gaucho team. Expect the Buckeyes to win a physical first-round contest by 10.
For the second time in school history, Oakland University sends its Golden Grizzlies to the NCAA Tournament. This time, the stage is set in Milwaukee for what is sure to be a tough match with Pittsburgh.
Oakland went 17-1 in the Summit League and also won the Summit League Championship. Even so, they could only muster a 14 seed, probably due to their still-growing reputation. Consequently, the Golden Grizzlies face a Panthers squad that has beaten West Virginia, Louisville, Villanova, and Syracuse this year.
Though Pittsburgh poses a serious threat to this Cinderella team, Oakland is a team of hard-working believers. They will show up to play Friday, and rest assured, Coach Greg Kampe and his team will only continue to earn respect from the college basketball community.
Make the rugged defensive battle between Pitt and Oak-town a priority Friday evening, as the Panthers get a scare but tough it out in the end, beating the Golden Grizzlies by seven.
By the weekend, 2:30 PM will prove to be a time for first-round upsets. That’s when Murray State tips off against Vanderbilt in San Jose Thursday. Siena and Purdue square off in Spokane, Washington at the same time Friday. Both underdogs will prevail.
Start with Murray State. Sporting a 30-4 record including 17-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Racers match up with Vandy in every statistical category. They have five players averaging double-figures in points, and wield a highly-aggressive frontcourt on both sides of the ball. If they can come up with key defensive stops and capitalize on strong perimeter shooting, they will be able to come out on top. The Commodores are indeed a legitimate force, with great ball-handling and more talented individual scorers. But in a total team game, Murray State ekes out a thriller by three.
Siena, meanwhile, drew an absolute gem of a first-round match-up with Purdue. These two teams seem like they are heading in opposite directions. The Saints have won their last five games including the MAAC Championship, sealing their third consecutive Tournament berth. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers struggled down the stretch with losses to Michigan State and Minnesota. The void has been felt since Purdue leading-scorer Robbie Hummel went down with a season-ending ACL injury. Granted the MAAC and Big Ten conferences are a World apart, but that didn’t stop Siena from toppling Ohio State in the Tournament last year. The Saints go marching Friday, winning by five.
The UTEP Miners and the Cornell Big Red have a couple hardwood games that are almost as likable as their respective first-round matchups. Both of these 12 seeds look to be in great position to not only advance, but to make it right up to the Sweet 16 until being derailed by No. 1 seeds.
UTEP faces Butler in the first round, and if victorious, the winner of the Vandy-Murray St. game in the second. Coach Tony Barbee’s Miners are multi-dimensional, building around leading scorer and Conference USA Player of the Year, Randy Culpepper.
His tremendous game is complemented by multi-faceted guards Christian Polk (9.6 PPG) and Julyan Stone (6 PPG, 5 RPG, 5.4 APG). The Miners also have a solid three-man frontcourt, with each big man capable of scoring and rebounding in double-digits on a night-to-night basis.
Still, Butler is a brutal opponent. The Bulldogs have won an incredible 20 straight games and finished a perfect 18-0 in the Horizon League. They have beaten Xavier and Ohio State. But they haven’t played an offensive force like the current UTEP team. In a high-scoring battle between two young coaches, 33-year old Brad Stevens and 38-year old Barbee, I say the elder coach comes out victorious by eight in an upset.
While UTEP rides its raw, physical talent to the third round, Cornell will get there with intelligent play and efficient team shooting. The Ivy League Champions face a strong Temple squad that has taken down the likes of Villanova and Siena, and also won the Atlantic 10 Championship. But this could prove to be a truly impressive match-up, as this is not only two teams that have won their conferences three years in a row, but also a match-up of coaches that happen to be good friends.
Cornell Coach Steve Donahue was an assistant at Penn under Coach Fran Dunphy, who took over at Temple in 2006.
They remain close to this day, so there’s a distinct possibility that personal emotions will be magnified Friday at 12:30 in Jacksonville. The Big Red has won 15 of its last 16 games, led by Ivy League Player of the Year Ryan Wittman (17.5 PPG), and will win this game by a margin of six in overtime. CBS will have a real blast with this instant classic of a game.
If Cornell does indeed advance, they face the winner of the Wisconsin-Wofford game. However, with Syracuse in UTEP's path and Kentucky in Cornell's, the dance ends in the Sweet 16 for the 12 seeds.
A strong San Diego State Aztecs team takes the 11 seed into the first round against the Tennessee Volunteers. An even match through-and-through, both teams are 25-8 with 11-5 records in their respective conferences. Both have key wins this season.
Sure, San Diego State's key wins came against UNLV and New Mexico, both twice, and Tennessee's key wins came against top seeds Kansas and Kentucky. But give the Aztecs a challenge and they seem to come through in the clutch.
Their two prime advantages are their patient offense and their defense near the basket. SD State Coach Steve Fisher has taught his players to wait for opportunities to develop, a key factor to their 47 percent field goal percentage. That, paired with a disruptive defense against a poor-shooting Vols team, is a recipe for success.
This much-discussed match tips off at 9:45 pm Thursday in Providence, RI. If the Aztecs get it going early, it's theirs to steal. Five points will be the difference in overtime. Georgetown will be waiting for the winner.
Highlighting the 10-7 match-ups are Georgia Tech versus Oklahoma State and Missouri against Clemson. Both 10 seeds have a shot at advancing to the second round, but the Yellow Jackets are a better bet. Though they are ranked 33rd to Oklahoma State's 32 on the RPI, they have a better record against teams in the RPI Top 50.
Oklahoma State has arguably the greatest scorer in the Big 12 in 6'6" junior James Anderson (22.6 PPG, 46.3 FG%), but Georgia Tech counters with a strong 1-2 frontcourt in Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors. The two big men and the rest of the Yellow Jackets must stay out of foul trouble, and in the meantime shoot consistently from the free throw line.
Georgia Tech is coming off a great run in the ACC Championships, narrowly losing to Duke, top seeds in the Big Dance. Look for the Jackets to capitalize on their recent momentum and ride their half-court offense into the second round, taking Oklahoma State by seven en route to a meeting with Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Missouri will be a popular pick for Friday afternoon's game, but they just haven't proved themselves on the big stages this year. Look for a tried-and-tested Clemson team to eke a win out only to lose to West Virginia on Sunday.
As expected, Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals have their hands full this March. After losing three of their last five, they now vie for a second-round appearance against a tough California Golden Bears team, the top in the Pac-10.
Cal has a number of different threatening factors, including shooting, speed, and experience. One player that fits all three of those threats is 5'10" Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle, an all-around phenom leading the team in scoring and assists. Pitino admits that Randle and the Bears are the toughest test he has ever faced in the first round of March Madness.
But Pitino is brilliant, and his team is athletic enough to overpower California's often-inferior low-post defense. Cardinals sophomore Samardo Samuels will play a huge part in a Louisville victory, driving the lane and hitting the boards for second-chance opportunities.
The Bears, led by another great coach in Mike Montgomery, will be out of luck against the Tournament experience of Pitino and his squad, falling by 10. Any team that can beat Syracuse twice can definitely handle a Pac-10 team. Duke in the second round will be another story.
UNLV will handily take care of Northern Iowa. Gonzaga should squeeze by Florida State. Texas will beat Wake Forest. But these games aren't exactly the greatest 8-9 match-ups in NCAA Tournament history. Not only that, they are meaningless.
UNLV will once again lose in the second round, this time to a far superior Kansas team, the top overall seed in the nation. Coach Lon Kruger and Runnin' Rebels fans have reason to be annoyed, since it seems they get a poor bracket position year in and year out. But needless to say, they have the skill set to end a wonderful little story in UNI, not write themselves into the Final Four.
Gonzaga and Texas, meanwhile, face fairly poor Florida State and Wake Forest teams. Gonzaga will shoot the lights out in the first round, but Syracuse will stop them in their tracks before they have time to enjoy the run. No Sweet 16 for the Bulldogs this year—not if Jim Boeheim has anything to say about it. Texas will have a similarly ugly fate when they face John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats Saturday. Rick Barnes' Longhorns will hit a brick wall by the name of John Wall.
The Brigham Young Cougars are one of the great stories in this 2010 NCAA Tournament. Led by pancreatic cancer survivor Dave Rose, BYU went on some serious runs this year, including a 15-game winning streak before a loss to fellow MWC powerhouse New Mexico.
With two wins against SD State, and victories over UTEP, UNLV, and Arizona State, the Cougars are a formidable opponent for the entire West Region, never mind Florida. Junior guard Jimmer Fredette leads a talented backcourt with 21.7 PPG, 4.7 APG, a good assist-to-turnover ratio, and sky-high field goal and free throw percentages. Billy Donovan's lackluster 2010 Gator team is no match for Fredette and his teammates.
If Rose can lead BYU past Kansas State, fueled by good shooting and interior defense and rebounding, there is a solid shot that this is the 2010 Cinderella team. Their dance begins Thursday afternoon at 12:20 in Oklahoma. It looks like it will be over early on, with the Cougars winning by 15-20.
Clemson and Richmond will most likely advance as well, but their chances of getting by the 2 seeds in the second round are not as favorable. Clemson would meet West Virginia, while Richmond would be stuck facing Villanova.
Sometimes you eat the bracket, sometimes the bracket eats you.
Notre Dame and Xavier may have gotten the two best placements on Selection Sunday, with the Fighting Irish pitted against Old Dominion and the Musketeers getting Minnesota.
Notre Dame is a highly underrated team, having beaten Pittsburgh twice, West Virginia, and Georgetown this season. Of course, they did it with the help of leading scorer Luke Harangody, who missed five games late in the season due to injury but recently returned.
Coach Mike Brey has led the charge as the Irish rallied late, nearly upsetting West Virginia in the Big Ten Championship. They thrive on ball control and half-court play sets, and will outsmart Old Dominion to get to Baylor in the second round. That will prove to be a real test, as Baylor looks great heading into the Dance. The Sweet 16 awaits if they can pass that test.
Xavier, meanwhile, is a real gut pick to pass Minnesota and Pittsburgh. This is the Musketeers' fifth consecutive appearance in the Tournament, following up a strong 2009 Sweet 16 campaign. The 10th-highest scoring team in the nation, Chris Mack's team is a sleeper to watch.
Keep your eyes on sophomore guard Jordan Crawford, a superb 6'4" scorer averaging 20 PPG and shooting 46 percent from the field. After sitting out a transfer year when he came over from Indiana, he is hungry. Senior big Jason Love adds a presence down low, averaging 12 PPG and 8.6 RPG.
Many are calling Xavier a "trendy" pick, but make no mistake, this is a team combining talent with experience. The Musketeers are prime contenders to take it the distance and meet Kansas State in the Sweet 16, joining Notre Dame as the dominant 6 seeds. Sorry, Marquette—New Mexico is in your immediate future.
In the Midwest Region, Michigan State takes a defensive-minded team to Washington to face New Mexico State. Coach Tom Izzo's Spartans did not have the greatest year against teams in the RPI Top 50, but they did beat teams like Wisconsin and Gonzaga.
A young but extremely well-coached team, Michigan State has the athleticism to sail past the Aggies. That will pave the way for a real coaching showdown between Izzo and Maryland Coach Gary Williams on Sunday, an inevitable classic.
Junior Kalin Lucas is the on-floor leader and leading scorer, and he will open up shots for teammates when double-teamed. Sophomore point guard Korey Lucious, a quick and efficient catalyst of the Spartan offense, will zip up and down the floor in transition. Overall, it is Izzo's ability to bring the pieces together that will take this young team to the Sweet 16 against Kansas.
In the South, an even stronger 5 seed looms over the likes of Utah State, and the winner of Siena-Purdue. Texas A&M is a tough Big 12 team coming off an extraordinary season.
March Madness will be the real coming-out party for senior Donald Sloan, who has been bordering star-status all year. Averaging 18 PPG, look for him to step up big-time alongside marksman B.J. Holmes and big man Bryan Davis. They should also get a boost with the return of point guard Dash Harris, who has a 1.92 assist-to-turnover ratio and a knack for defending the ball.
With solid ball control and a quality point guard in Jared Quayle, the Aggies of Utah State are a good team. But the Aggies of Texas A&M are better. Once Coach Mark Turgeon's squad rolls past Utah State, they will most likely be faced with Siena, and if all goes well there, No. 1 seed Duke.
Was I complaining earlier about the 8 seeds? I should have saved my energy. This is the weakest set of 4 seeds ever assembled in the NCAA Tournament. Do the research. Prove me wrong.
Vandy and Purdue both run the risk of being knocked out in round one, while Maryland and Wisconsin go from little to no first-round competition to serious second-round competition.
The Terrapins get 19-15 Houston, which is a joke of a warm-up for the real battle: Tom Izzo's Spartans in round two. Meanwhile, the Badgers face the Wofford Terriers, which 85 percent of the country has never heard of before. Good luck playing Cornell after spanking Wofford, Coach Bo Ryan.
If a team must be picked out of this seeding group, make it the Terrapins. Williams did a fantastic job leading them to 23-8 season (13-3 in the ACC) and they have an older, more experienced starting lineup that has the potential of outsmarting the younger Michigan State.
Nevertheless, don't expect to see a number 4 seed in the Sweet 16.
Here is my ranking of the 3 seeds, from strongest to weakest:
3. New Mexico
Yes, I have placed many eggs in one basket by counting on the Hoyas to play their best game, anticipating an Elite 8 visit. The lows have been very low for Coach John Thompson III, like losing to Rutgers, but the highs have also been very high. No one can frown at victories over Pittsburgh, Villanova, Syracuse, and Duke.
Another promising fact is that they beat the Orange in Syracuse, proving when they're on, it doesn't matter where they play. Also, after polishing off Ohio in Providence, they stay in Rhode Island to play the winner of San Diego State-Tennessee. Having less of a commute will prove beneficial for the Hoyas.
Thompson III, who has led Georgetown to their fourth Tournament in his sixth year as head coach, has a remarkably gifted lineup. There's sophomore Greg Monroe, a 6'11," 250-pound banger that does it all (16 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.5 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 52 FG%).
Junior guard Austin Freeman adds 16.7 PPG and 45 percent from beyond the arc. Junior point guard Chris Wright runs the offense, averaging 15 PPG to go with his 4.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, and high shooting percentages. The Hoyas can run.
Can they run past Kansas? Probably not. But it will be a fun ride until the end if the nation gets to see them battle it out.
As for the South, watch for Baylor to surprise the masses and move through the rounds past Sam Houston, Notre Dame, and maybe even Villanova. The Bears are 11-5 in the Big 12, and 7-5 against RPI Top 50 opponents. They beat Texas A&M this year. Come to think of it, how great would it be to have a Baylor-Texas A&M rematch in the Elite 8?
Baylor, like Georgetown, is a 3 seed with multiple dimensions. The big man, 6'10" junior Ekpe Udoh, shot 50 percent from the field and had 14 double-doubles and one triple-double. Junior guard LaceDarius Dunn averaged just under 20 points a game and shot 42.5 percent from three-point range. And not only is he dead-on, he gets open a lot. He averages 3.3 threes a game. Tie it all together with point guard Tweety Carter, a senior averaging 15.7 points and 6.1 assists per game, and maintaining an amazing 2.28 assist-to-turnover ratio.
These are my 3 seed picks to make the Elite 8. I think in the East Region, a strong New Mexico Lobos team will get stopped in the Sweet 16 when they face West Virginia. And Pittsburgh, as previously mentioned, runs the risk of a second-round upset at the hands of Xavier.
1. West Virginia
2. Kansas State
4. Ohio State
West Virginia seems to be the best contender to knock off a No. 1 seed. With a clutch star player in 6'7" senior Da'Sean Butler, a lineup of players that all know their roles, and a fairly accommodating bracket schedule in the East Region, you have to like their chances.
Butler, who averaged 17.4 points a game and rarely turned the ball over, hit huge shots for the Mountaineers the entire season. He helped Coach Bob Huggins' team to a 27-6 record, an impressive 13-5 in the Big East. What's more, he hit two game-winners to lead them to a Big East Championship. They finished the season 9-5 against opponents in the RPI Top 50, winning key games against Georgetown (x2), Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Villanova.
Need more evidence? Their aforementioned road to the Big Dance starts with Morgan State, then the winner of Clemson and Missouri, then probably New Mexico. Kentucky poses the first problem in that run-down. And a formidable problem it will be. But the only team not seeded at 1 that could reach the Final Four is the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Kansas State has a similarly enjoyable run to the Elite 8, starting with North Texas, then BYU, then the winner of Xavier-Pitt. But I really don't like the Wildcats' chances to beat Syracuse, an absolute powerhouse in the West. It will be one of the best Elite 8 games, but it won't be a win for the underdog.
The often-inconsistent offensive play of Ohio State and Villanova will haunt them both, each stalling out no later than the Sweet 16. I don't think Ohio State's standout Evan Turner can single-handedly take out Georgetown if the Hoyas play to their full potential. And I doubt Villanova can get past Baylor, or even Notre Dame if the Irish plays aggressively. Nova is a popular pick—and Scottie Reynolds is superb—but complete teams win in March Madness, not individual talent.
Sorry. No surprises. Say what you want about the Tournament Selection Committee and the selection process, but it's hard to argue that Kansas and Kentucky are the two best teams in the nation. It's hard to imagine another team passing one of these top seeds to make the Final Four. They got it right.
So the number one loser will be the Kentucky Wildcats. This team has been quite remarkable, riding the enormous success of their freshman duo, point guard John Wall and big-man DeMarcus Cousins. They are most likely going to end up in the NBA next year.
Wall is a tremendous scorer. He can take over a game whenever he wants or needs to, and he can pass and rebound well. He's strong, quick, and athletic and he is comfortable at every spot of the floor.
Meanwhile, Cousins is averaging a double-double, breaking teams down from the inside. He's great at establishing position in the post, and he sets up for strong and weak-side rebounding very well. He also has great feet on offense and defense, and his wingspan helps him to a couple blocks almost every game.
But can a team starting three freshman become the National Champions? Any other year, I'd say this John Calipari team can, especially with a solid junior forward in Patrick Patterson helping man the frontcourt. But this is the year of the Jayhawk, and most everyone knows it.
Kansas is the one-upper of the tourney. Kentucky's conference record is 14-2 and they won the SEC Championship? Well, Kansas is 15-1 in their conference and they won the Big 12 tourney. Kentucky's 4-1 against RPI Top 50 teams? Kansas is 12-2 versus the best.
Coach Bill Self is used to being at the top at this point. His point guard, junior Sherron Collins is the offensive focal point—driving, shooting, dishing, winning—it all goes through him. 6'11" junior Cole Aldrich scores and rebounds with ease, and blocks almost everything in his zone. They are the best inside-outside tandem in the tourney.
Overall, there are a lot of positives and very few, if any, negatives in the Jayhawks' game. They are stacked, with four players averaging double-figures, and key reserves on the bench always ready to play their roles.
There's no doubt that this will be an exciting National Championship match. But it'll be more exciting for those that picked Kansas over Kentucky, as Bill Self's boys will be cutting the nets down on April 5th. Until then, enjoy the Madness.