Now this is exciting. For the first time since graduating from college, I will be there for that 12:00 tap on Thursday. Just incredibly pumped about this weekend (and some teams, which I will go through in a bit). St. Patty's Day on Wednesday going right into the first day of the tourney...is there a better way to daze into the next morning than four simultaneous first round games? Also, allegedly, the weather is supposed to be amazing Wed.-Fri....and in case you were unaware, canoeing to work may become en vogue in another day...that's how much it's rained the last three days. I have honestly never seen anything like it. I'm not at the point of being scared...but I am a little concerned that this rain catches up to us at some point (apparently manhole covers are just kind of floating above the ground now...which tends to be somewhat of an issue). In any event, I have some faith in this weather turning...who cares though? March Madness is here.
So, here's how I'm thinking about doing this. Basically for me, this is all about feel. In the past, I really allowed the numbers to clout my better judgment. I have to say that I really have almost felt sick to my stomach (this is what I imagine food poisoning is all about...which I think I may have had when I was 13...not sure). It's like I knew it would be more enjoyable to pull for Team X, but yet the numbers said Team Y by like a millimeter, so I went Y. So, this year, I will be breaking down just the overall feeling I have towards some of these teams, and who I'm going with. I'm doing this on a Monday, the day right after the selection show, so in no way can I get caught by one team, or swept up by some stat that I can't let go. Although it could be argued that picking closer to Thursday is probably the better move so any late injuries can be considered, or whatever could alter how some teams play. I'm thinking that the more time I have to think and re-think...and re-think the re-think, it's just going to make things worse. Trust me on this. So, here is the first March Madness Dossier (because "manifesto" is taken...and it reminds me of my GoldenEye Strategy Guide...the level tips were "dossiers"...good game).
The Midwest Region:
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
- Oklahoma State
- Northern Iowa
- Georgia Tech
- San Diego State
- New Mexico State
- UC Santa Barbara
I really like UNLV's style, but trust me on Northern Iowa. This team was dominant this season, and I'm kind of curious to see how the Rebs respond after losing the MWC Championship to San Diego State on their home floor. No one in the 11-14 range really jumps out at me. Georgia Tech has that kind of raw athletic edge that could get them either bounced from the first round or into the Sweet Sixteen...hate those teams, you know, the one's you can't predict...because I'm predicting here.
Second Round Winners: Kansas, Michigan State, Georgetown, Ohio State
I think Evan Turner is at a Kevin Durant-like level in terms of his game, only I believe that unlike Durant, Turner at least has some experience playing in this type of atmosphere. So, that will get them through at least two rounds. I think Maryland is an entirely different team away from home. Also, they beat Duke at home, meaning Greivis Vasquez's career is complete already. Georgetown is looking too good right now, and probably should have won the Big East considering Butler from West Virginia went up-and-down on his game winner.
Third Round Winners: Kansas, Georgetown
If Kansas/Michigan State were to happen, it would pit two guards who have become legends at their schools (Kalin Lucas and Sherron Collins). I feel like Michigan State is an "every other year" team, where one year they make a huge run, the next, they're out in one round. Luckily for them, the two teams they get in the first two rounds have even more question marks in terms of their ability to make a run. Georgetown is going to benefit from the overwhelming pressure that will start to be placed on Evan Turner. I'm not saying that he is incapable of being able to handle it, but there is only so much you can realistically expect from one player. If Georgetown is able to wrap up Turner, which I believe they will do, then the Buckeyes are going to be in big, big trouble. They went from top 10 with Turner to unranked without him, to top 5 with him. Also, the Big 10 is wildly overrated in my estimation, so a battle-tested team like the Hoyas could really pose a threat to Thad Motta and Co.
Final Four Pick: Kansas
The Jayhawks are the "classy" team this year...I always like picking the classy teams because they have the ability to just completely floor other teams based on just how good they are. Kansas was at least in the top 2 teams all year long, and it's really tough to argue that they weren't the best.
The West Region:
- Kansas State
- Florida State
- Murray State
- North Texas
This is by far the scariest region for me...I am really, really nervous about everything, and that's never a good sign. My strategy is to go conservative in the first round, then start to get somewhat goofy in the second, followed, by conservative-conservative. I am not sure if this formula will work, but if it does...we may have a theory in the works. Ay-Yo! Theory in the works! Anyway, going chalk pretty much throughout. 'Cuse/UVM is actually going to be a decent game. Marquis Blakely...coming to a Vegas Summer League team near you. The center for Florida State, Solomon Alibi, is just good times all-around. He went from being a horrendous free throw shooter to almost 80% in one year. Really like UTEP, and I think that game with Butler will be great. However, I like the experience of Butler. I feel like they will have adjusted to being on the 4 or 5 line. They aren't the proverbial underdog anymore (Gonzaga syndrome...team goes from being cinderella, to powerhouse that can't handle a top seed, to okay, we're good, we can accept being the favorite). I feel like the Vandy/Murray State game has OT written all over it, and my gut is telling me Vandy wins a game that goes to extra frames. Minnesota is smoke and mirrors...yet I keep feeling all this Big 10 smack talk that I've put out, and will continue to put out throughout, could kill me...nah, I'll be alright. Florida as a #10 is interesting considering I thought Mississippi State was a better team, and not only does Florida have a higher rank, but State's not even in the tournament. Kansas State is a top-10 ranked Georgia Tech...no clue what team will show up.
Second Round Picks: Syracuse, Butler, Xavier, Kansas State
From here on out, I will be looking for a reason not to go with Syracuse...just a fair warning there. It's not that I don't like them, but they seem like they could grenade if they don't get their center, Arkinze Onuaku, back. However, he is their fourth leading scorer, and fourth leading rebounder, so I'm not sure if they will get entirely derailed whether or not he plays. As I was saying earlier, I really think this will be the year that Butler becomes comfortable with being a dominant presence in college basketball, and they will definitely make things interesting for Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen (again, if all goes according to plan). Xavier was a terror for Pittsburgh last year, and I'm expecting big noise from them this year. Kansas State I just don't like at all, but I'm down on BYU as well, so it's really a lose-lose for me. Taking it in on a whole, I'm not sure BYU has that edge that is needed to beat Kansas State...they're kind of stagnant to be completely honest with you. So, K-State gets through to the Sweet Sixteen
Third Round Picks: Syracuse, Xavier
I really think Syracuse/Butler has huge potential ramifications. If Butler is able to pull this game off, it will officially bring Indiana basketball back to the forefront after the Hoosiers have been a laughing stock ever since their Final Four appearance back in 2002, and the Pacers have sucked since Reggie Miller hung it up (that 30 in 30 on Reggie and the Knicks was outstanding by the way). Again, even if K-State survives BYU, they will entertain the Musketeers, who conceivably could have been in five Elite Eights since 2004 (have appeared in two).
Final Four Pick: Syracuse
Again, I'm going conservative here purely based on the fact that there is no other team I can see winning this region. Really, it's up to Butler. There is an absolute chance they run the tables to Indy, but I think the Orange may play with a chip on their shoulder considering they got bumped by Duke to play in Salt Lake City instead of Houston (I haven't been to either of the two...in terms of where a winter-locked team would want to go to get to the Final Four, I'm thinking the warmer locale is what's up).
The East Region:
- West Virginia
- New Mexico
- Wake Forest
- Morgan State
- East Tennessee State
You have to wonder how well Kentucky would do in, say, the Big East or the Big 12...I'm thinking 32-2...yeah they're that good. Texas has been in a two-month free fall that saw them go from #1 to unranked and an eighth seed in the tourney. Al-Faroug Aminu officially wins the "guy with the name" award from Wake. Cornell is so good. They absolutely took it to all their non-conference opponents, but just couldn't seal the deal. Plus, you need a #12 (that actually should be posted under every bracket...NOTE: While filling out the contents of this bracket, is by complete theoretical absoluteness you select a 12 to beat a 5). I wanted to go U-Dub, but then I saw they have a guy named Isaiah Thomas...that used to be a solid name to have. Mizzou was in the Elite Eight last year, and I'm picking against Clemson...totally comfortable with that choice.
Second Round Picks: Kentucky, Cornell, New Mexico, West Virginia
Yeah Big Red. How can you root for Wisconsin unless you're from there or went there? That is such a horrendous style of play. Play good D, score 60, and hope for the best. Cornell has experience in big spots against big names this year. Everyone is down on the Lobos because they are a #3, and I respect that because I never have felt exceptionally comfortable with a beginning of the year sleeper that turns out to not be in a sleeper position. However, it's going to be way too tough to root against them, so I'm sticking with New Mexico. Also, if Marquette wins this game, they play West Virginia in the third round...it's really tough for me to imagine an in-conference matchup this early in the tournament. I know we had one last year with Pitt and 'Nova, but that was to get to the Final Four, not the Elite Eight. West Virginia is riding a really nice luck streak. Especially in the first few rounds, it's better to be lucky than good.
Third Round Picks: Kentucky, New Mexico
Lobos...simply because they were my team all along. I watched them so closely as the reeled off win after win and steadily ascending the polls without too much wavering. Yes, they lost two games in a row and three of five including a 12-point loss to UNLV on January 9th, which before their conference loss against San Diego State (yes, them again), was the last time they lost a game (that would be two months and fifteen games ago if you were curious...I know I was). Too good too quick? Perhaps, but considering I already had my mind made up about who was advancing out of this region about two months ago, this isn't really that much of a gamble.
Final Four Pick: Kentucky
Yeah, I'm not picking against Kentucky regardless of how much I like a team. I really think New Mexico is outstanding...Kentucky is just way up in some other atmosphere that I'm not even sure we knew existed, especially considering they are led by two freshmen. Here's the thing about that though: I'm pretty sure they have no idea they are supposed to feel any kind of pressure at all. Here is the best team to come out of Kentucky in fifteen years, they've been in the top 5 all year, and yet you couldn't even really notice. Sure, they lost to USC, and that was great, but it took a superhuman effort by a superhuman individual to accomplish that, something that no one on this side of the bracket has.
The South Region:
- Texas A&M
- Notre Dame
- Saint Mary's
- Old Dominion
- Utah State
- Sam Houston State
- Robert Morris
- Arkansas/Pine Bluff or Winthrop
Let me make one quick observation before I dive into this...why does the play-in winner play the #3 overall seed and not the #1 overall seed? Do you see where I'm coming from here? Wouldn't you think that the best team would play the "worst" team in? Isn't that what this whole bracket thing is about? Seeding based on how you played the season? Also, Duke has by far the "easiest" road to the Final Four, and yet they're the third #1...interesting. You have to hope for two things: 1.) A Coach K/Pitino matchup, and 2.) Pitino wears the matching white shirt and jacket combo that made me think he was at Puffy's "White-Out" Hamptons party. You just have to trust me on Siena. I was actually up there last weekend grabbing every case of Yuengling I could possibly find in the Albany area (sorry Albany-based spring breakers...that's the way the s___ boils down sometimes...one day Yuengling is bountifully available, and then a storm comes in with an extra large truck bed, and it's all over), and everyone is wearing Siena gear...everyone. The only thing that concerns me is that no one is giving Purdue a chance to get to the Sweet Sixteen, and just a slight edge in their game against the Saints (currently a four-point favorite)...oh, and did I mention they're the Saints? Hmmm...now that's interesting. Notre Dame has at least one win left in them. Richmond would be much better served as a lower seed. I'm not sure how they will respond to being on the top half.
Second Round Picks: Duke, Siena, Baylor, Villanova
Again, Siena. Here's a team who has been to the tournament three straight years, and have won a game in each of those two years. So, they're hungry to see what awaits beyond just winning the first round. Notre Dame had a great run to get to this spot, but I can see them running out of steam. Baylor is a pure energy team, and if they are not feeling it, then its curtains. My hopes are that they come out rolling, which they are more than capable of doing. 'Nova will have their hands full with Saint Mary's. I can't believe St. Mary's would not have gotten in had they lost to Gonzaga in the WCC finals. This is as streaky as they come, and if the Gaels start shooting, 'Nova may not be able to keep up.
Third Round Picks: Duke, Baylor
If Baylor makes it to the Sweet Sixteen, they will be playing to get to the Final Four from Houston...I can see Baylor-mania happening if the Bears make it that far. 'Nova is such a gritty team that they could put a wrench into the mania, but I can't help but really be on board for this.
Final Four Pick: Baylor
As I was saying, I can't help but really get on board with Baylor right now. Here's how this will shake down: Duke will be playing a powerhouse team on the road, with most likely a 75/25 split in Baylor's advantage crowd-wise. I know that this kind of thing happened to Michigan State last year, but UNC was not going to be defeated (I know, I picked MSU, but I think I lost track of how good UNC was...I mean it was either them, the Horford/Brewer/Noah Gators, or the '05 Tar Heels for best team of the decade). Duke, on the other hand, can be beaten in a hostile environment, like what happened against Maryland. If Baylor can make it, the entire state of Texas will be pulling for them, and even more so considering who they are playing.
The Final Four
The Midwest Region Winner vs. The West Region Winner: Kansas
Stay classy Kansas. I just love Sherron Collins. It's one thing if you have a superstar on you're team, but it's completely different if you're superstar is A.) a senior, and B.) a point guard. Collins is not only both of these, but he also has a national title already under his belt. He will likely be Tourney MOP even if they don't win the title (MOP for "Most Outstanding Player"...instead of MVP, you know, like every sport on God's green Earth calls it).
The East Region Winner vs. The South Region Winner: Kentucky
My initial thought was this: There is no way a matchup like Kansas/Kentucky could ever happen unless it was somewhere other than the national title game. However, we seem to be breaking the mold in terms of the dream matchups that happen that you thought you would never see. Something always disrupted this in the past, but you had Yankees/Phillies, Colts/Saints, Red Wings/Pens...twice, and coming soon, Cavs/Lakers. So, why not have the two best teams by far square off for the ultimate prize.
The Champs: Kentucky
Calipari has been to two Final Fours. The first time with UMass (although because of Marcus Camby, it's been stricken from the record, but trust me, "Refuse to Lose" happened), they got bumped by, yup, Kentucky, in the national semifinal. The second time, he went with Memphis to the national final only to lose to, yup, Kansas. So, you have a "third time is the charm" and "revenge game" corollaries going for them. They have the best class of freshmen since the Fab Five. I always love the frosh superstar duo as well. This is Conley/Oden but way better. What's even crazier is that we really have no idea where the ceiling of this team is. You just have to hope for this game though. It would be nice to have the best two teams going after each other. A clear "good guy/bad guy" element also comes into play with Calipari's litany of alleged violations...well some alleged, others turned out to be proven. I'm thinking the 'Cats are 'dogged in that game as well, and in these marquee matchups, the underdog has been doing quite well.
And now, factual information. Here are the start times for Thursday and Friday's games:
12:20- MW (7) BYU vs. (10) Florida; Oklahoma City
12:25- S (6) Notre Dame vs. (11) Old Dominion; New Orleans
12:30- S (2) Villanova vs. (15) Robert Morris; Providence
2:30- W (4) Vanderbilt vs. (13) Murray State; San Jose
2:40- W (2) Kansas State vs. (15) North Texas; Oklahoma City
2:45- S (3) Baylor vs. (14) Sam Houston State; New Orleans
2:50- S (7) Richmond vs. (10) Saint Mary's; Providence
4:45- W (5) Butler vs. (12) UTEP; New Orleans
7:10- MW (8) UNLV vs. (9) Northern Iowa; Oklahoma City
7:15- E (1) Kentucky vs. (16) East Tennessee State; New Orleans
7:20- E (6) Marquette vs. (11) Washington; San Jose
7:25- MW (3) Georgetown vs. (14) Ohio; Providence
9:30- MW (1) Kansas vs. (16) Lehigh; Oklahoma City
9:35- E (8) Texas vs. (9) Wake Forest; New Orleans
9:40- E (3) New Mexico vs. (14) Montana; San Jose
9:45- MW (6) Tennessee vs. (11) San Diego State; Providence
12:15- E (2) West Virginia vs. (15) Morgan State; Buffalo
12:25- W (6) Xavier vs. (11) Minnesota; Milwaukee
12:30- E (5) Temple vs. (12) Cornell; Jacksonville
2:30- S (4) Purdue vs. (13) Siena; Spokane
2:35- E (7) Clemson vs. (10) Missouri; Buffalo
2:45- W (3) Pittsburgh vs. (14) Oakland; Milwaukee
2:50- E (4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Wofford; Jacksonville
4:45- S (5) Texas A&M vs. (12) Utah State; Spokane
7:10- W (8) Gonzaga vs. (9) Florida State; Buffalo
7:15- MW (7) Oklahoma State vs. (10) Georgia Tech; Milwaukee
7:20- MW (5) Michigan State vs. (12) New Mexico State; Spokane
7:25- S (1) Duke vs. (16) Arkansas-Pine Bluff/Winthrop; Jacksonville
9:30- W (1) Syracuse vs. (16) Vermont; Buffalo
9:35- MW (2) Ohio State vs. (15) UC Santa Barbara; Milwaukee
9:40- MW (4) Maryland vs. (13) Houston; Spokane
9:45- S (8) California vs. (9) Louisville; Jacksonville
So, there you have it. I went basically the opposite of how I have been going the entire time I've been predicting this tournament. It was all about feeling here. No numbers involved at all...you have no idea how tough this was. No RPI, no three-point percentages, no adjusted scoring margins...nothing! So, hopefully it goes well, and if it doesn't, I'm pretty sure that leaves me where I was to begin with. So, good luck everyone. May your brackets be masterful ones. Peace.