- excellent coaching
- guard play
- ability to play halfcourt
We also usually pick just one round at a time, because when you try and pick the whole tournament, you always screw up somewhere. It's inevitable.
So that said, here's what we think:
Duke should beat Winthrop, but they might prove to be a bit better than people think. They did beat Clemson this year, and not too long after that, Clemson gave Duke a reasonable game.
Notre Dame vs. Charlotte is pretty close to a toss-up. Both coaches are excellent. We like Notre Dame's point guard, even though he's a freshman, and that tips the balance. Plus Mike Brey has vast tournament experience from his days at Duke, and also at Delaware.
In the Indiana vs. Utah matchup, while IU has more talent, Jared Jeffries is playing hurt. In addition to that, Rick Majerus is one of the finest minds in college basketball in the last 30-40 years. He loves being at Utah, but it's hard to recruit there, and so he ends up with missionaries either coming back or heading out. Nonetheless, Majerus has had several days to prepare, and we will not bet against him in this game.
USC vs. UNC-W. We're intrigued by UNC-W. Jerry Wainright is an old Wake assistant, and he has some reasonable talent there. He actually said one of his players - we're pretty sure Brent Blizzard - was more talented than anyone he'd ever worked with, and we would remind you that he worked with one Tim Duncan. Still, we'll take SC with one caveat: if Wilmington keeps the game close, SC has shown that they don't always close well. But they should win with little problem.
Cal vs. Penn. Ben Braun is a superior coach with superior talent. Penn's gone.
Pitt vs. Central Connecticut State. We know little about either team but Pitt has played better competition, so we'll take Pitt. CCS has a long winning streak, though.
Oklahoma State vs. Kent State. We like those MAC teams for upset. The WAC used to be our second favorite conference; now it just might be the MAC. If Oklahoma State plays like they did at the end of the season, they're very vulnerable. Still, they're a great defensive team. OSU, with our fingers crossed.
Alabama vs. Florida Atlantic. Bama.
The West is universally billed as the toughest path to the Final Four. But we're not as sold as everyone is. Cincinnati is tough, but they have trouble scoring at times. UCLA is schizophrenic. Ole Miss is probably a pretty tough bunch. Miami is a 5th seed out of the Big East, and while there is some talent there, the Big East was kind of mediocre this year.
Missouri and Ohio State are both smallish teams. Davidson we respect a great deal, but their path is not long.
Gonzaga gets a big rep and people think they were robbed by being seeded 6th when they were in the Top 10. But that's because of their schedule: Illinois beat them soundly early, a mediocre, offense-deprived St. John's gave them a game, and Texas, if we remember correctly, played through some injuries early in the season.
Marquette beat them, and they barely beat St. Joseph's, a team UNC beat senseless.
Are they good? Yes. Does their schedule justify their ranking? No. They are caught in the scheduling trap that programs at that level have to deal with. Being #6 in the polls doesn't mean you are the 6th best team in the country, but now Gonzaga gets to press their case on the court.
Arizona is absolutely legit, and so is Oklahoma.
So game by game:
Cincinnati vs. Boston U. Forget it. We're taking every #1 seed every time.
UCLA vs. Old Miss. UCLA is ready for one of their freaky, mind-blowing periods of excellence. How long will it last though? We'll take the Bruins this time.
Miami vs. Missouri. Again, a high seed from a mediocre conference. Perry Clarke has had some success, but he also almost flamed out at Tulane before moving to Miami, where Leonard Hamilton had put the pieces in place. Mizzou is small, but Quin Snyder, like Mike Brey, has vast experience in the tournament. If Gonzaga is too low, then so is Missouri. They are inconsistent, and point guard play is a problem, but they also almost beat Kansas the other day. Miami could not play at that level. We'll go with Mizzou.
Ohio State vs. Davidson. We love Davidson, but we can't pick them here.
Arizona-UCSB. Luke Walton makes them an exceptional team, and Lute Olson will really use him wisely. Arizona.
Gonzaga vs. Wyoming. We'll take Gonzaga.
Xavier vs. Hawaii. David West is one of the best, and we admire Xavier immensely. They are also turnover prone, and Hawaii loves that. Tough call, but we'll go with Hawaii. Don't be shocked if we blow that and Xavier makes a deep run.
Oklahoma vs. Illinois-Chicago. The Sooners, sooner than later.
Kansas vs. Holy Cross. Ralph Willard is a very good coach, but Roy Williams is better, and he has adapted to the modern game. His best team ever? Kansas in a laugher.
Stanford vs. Western Kentucky....Hmmmm....We respect Stanford, and they've been tremendous...but Western Kentucky has won 18 straight games. They've had a lot of stuff thrown at them, and they handled it all. It's hard to pick one over the other, but we'll take Western Kentucky. Really, though, this is a toss up to us.
Florida vs. Creighton. Florida has really fallen off at the end of the season, and Brett Nelson had his cheek broken in practice and will wear a face mask in the tournament. They haven't closed well, and chemistry may be a problem. Dana Altman is a tremendous coach. Florida has every material advantage, but we think Creighton has the intangibles, so we'll call this an upset.
Illinois vs. San Diego State University. - We think Illinois is somewhat vulnerable and has underachieved, but it's hard to pick them to lose this game.
Texas vs. B.C. Ok - Texas lost star Chris Owens for the season, and still kicked some butt. They have an exceptional point guard in rookie (and high school running mate of Daniel Ewing) T.J. Ford. B.C. has been mediocre all season and is 3-7 in the last 10 games. Texas.
Mississippi State vs. McNeese State. Tic Price surfaces. You may remember he left Memphis under somewhat of a cloud The Bulldogs are hot. So is McNeese, but that's like comparing Kelly Bundy and Marilyn Monroe: there are different levels of being hot. SEC in this one.
Wake Forest vs. Pepperdine. Pepperdine has never beaten an ACC team. Wake has shown some signs of life. They of course almost upset Maryland, and made Duke work for their win in the ACC Tournament. We'll take the Deacs and hope.
Oregon vs. Montana. Oregon lost to Portland? Wow. Road games are a wild variable with this bunch. Not in this game, though. Oregon romps.
Maryland vs. Siena - Dwayne Archibald could go off for 50 and Siena would still lose. He won't though - Maryland's guards will strangle Siena in the crib.
Wisconsin vs. St. John's - St. John's can't shoot. Wisconsin is one of the more interesting teams in this tourney. Dick Bennett is gone, but the new guy, Bo Ryan, seems to be doing fine. The Badgers started slow but have really come around. They own wins over Marquette, Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana. They're thin, but they know how to win close games and have chemistry, defense, and coaching. So we'll take the Badgers.
Texas Tech vs. Southern Illinois. Bob Knight has almost a week to get ready and to continue his renaissance. You want to bet against him? Not us.
Georgia vs. Murray State. The Racers are always a good upset candidate. Jim Harrick, despite his personal failings, is an excellent teacher, and his teams always play intelligently. So, the Bulldogs.
Michigan State vs. NC State - Our heart says State, our hopes are with State, but the odds are with Michigan State. These guys don't fool around. Izzo is, simply, one of the best. Plus look at the roster - four guys who are big and over 225. State's offense has fascinated people of late, and hypnotized some, and if they keep shooting threes the way they did in the tournament, they'll be tough. But even in a down year, Michigan State is big time. Even in a down year, though, Michigan State beat Oklahoma and Arizona, by 12 and 14 respectively, and nearly took Florida. State's had a solid year, and in some ways an inspiring one, but this is probably the end. We'd be happy to be wrong, but the Spartans will win this game and are a serious dark horse candidate.
UConn vs. Hampton - One and done, and we're not talking about UConn, a team that has finally quit celebrating their remarkable 1999 championship win over Duke. Seriously - they fell way off after that, and part of it was just a sense of having arrived. They're back on track now, though.