Ah yes, March is the most wonderful time of the year if you are a sports fan. The non-stop, pulsating, live-or-die moments of the NCAA Tournament provides dramatics that is not matched by any other sporting event. The pageantry is set to commence this weekend with non-stop basketball being played from noon into the better parts of the next four nights. Then there is three day break before the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds. Then nearly a week later the Final Four is set and the National Champions being crowned two days later on April 7. So sit back, skip work if you must, and enjoy the best three weeks in all of sports.
What follows here are some trends, storylines, and predictions for each region to look forward to in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. I hope your brackets are not busted after this weekend and you stand a chance in your office pool.
My prediction back in November that North Carolina would cut down the nets in San Antonio (site of the Final Four) still stands. They rolled through the season amassing a 32-2 record and are now running on all cylinders with a healthy Ty Lawson. They won't have it easy, with Louisville and Tennessee posing threats.
A potential one or two game sleeper to keep an eye on is St. Joseph's. The Hawks have size up front and guards that can shoot and score.
Everybody remembers George Mason's run to the 2006 Final Four. Well they're back and will give Notre Dame fits.
I have liked Kansas all season and they have all the ingredients to go all the way to San Antonio and perhaps even winning the whole thing. They have experienced guards in Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins and boast a freakishly athletic front line (Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson, and Darrell Arthur) that can shoot, rebound, and defend.
The teams trying to prevent Kansas from San Antonio are Georgetown, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and Clemson.
A sleeper to keep an eye on is Davidson. And I'm not just talking about the Wildcats scoring a so-called upset over Gonzaga. I'm talking about the Wildcats knocking off potential goliaths' Georgetown in round two. Stephen Curry is one of the best shooters in the country and his senior back court mate, Jason Richards, is one of the most underrated players in the country averaging eight assists per game.
Don't be surprised if Albany's Siena Saints can knock off Vanderbilt. USC versus Kansas State. Wow. What is better than two great freshmen, O.J. Mayo of USC and Michael Beasley of Kansas State, who may never be sophomores, going up against each other? Like Terrell Owens says, "Get Your Popcorn Ready."
UCLA started out strong and kept their momentum going all season. No shock there for a team that has been to back-to-back final fours. The Bruins have a full compliment of players and are led by the duo of sensational freshman Kevin Love down low and one of the best point guards in the country in Darren Collison leading the brigade in the back court.
A sleeper to keep an eye out for is Western Kentucky. The very underrated Courtney Lee can score in bunches and carry the Hilltoppers. You have been warned Drake!
It will be interesting to see how the Georgia Bulldogs play on three days rest. After playing four games in three days, adrenaline played in big part in the Bulldog's wild SEC Tournament run. Will they have enough left? I doubt it.
That UCLA-Duke potential match up in the Elite Eight will pit two storied programs against each other. It's hard to bet against Coach K, but UCLA coach Ben Howland is a rising star in the coaching ranks and expect the Bruins to get to San Antonio.
Prior to a hiccup against Tennessee, Memphis blitzed out of the gate much like the New England Patriots did in the NFL. But unlike the Patriots, the Tigers of Memphis will not carry the pressure of an undefeated on their shoulders.
Memphis, with an astonishing 33-1 record, is an undoubtedly a worthy # 1 seed. But will expectations match the regular season success?
A deep sleeper I like is the Michigan State Spartans. They have one of the game's best coaches in Tom Izzo and are led by a great point guard in Drew Neitzel. I think that steady influence will carry the Spartans all the way to San Antonio.
For a one game sleeper, I like Oral Roberts. You may be asking if I am crazy to pick against the Pittsburgh Panthers, who just won the Big East Tournament after winning four games in four days. But remember how emotionally and physically exhausted Syracuse was two years ago after completing the same feat and lost to Texas A&M in the first round. I see the same thing happening this year, with the Panthers possibly looking past the very experienced (four seniors and a junior among the starting five) Golden Eagles of Oral Roberts.
I just see Memphis succumbing to pressure due to awful free throw shooting and losing a close one in a game that will be contested, much unlike the cakewalks they had in the paltry Conference USA.
If it's not Michigan State, I still like Texas, with a dynamite back court of D. J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams, more than Memphis.
So my Final Four is UNC, Kansas, Michigan State and UCLA, with UNC and UCLA meeting in the National Title with the Tar Heels of North Carolina getting coach Roy Williams his second NCAA title.
Enjoy the madness!
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