Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Anyone notice that Charlotte, despite the presence of the Mighty Cardinal, has the worst games of any site? The #1 seeds will romp ,and this game has zero pizzazz. Anyway, Minnesota put together a late five-game winning streak, including the win that ended Indiana's hopes, to reach the Big Ten title game and slip into the big dance. Their best two wins are Iowa and Wisconsin, nothing to write home about. But with a 0% graduation rate for the basketball team I doubt the Gophers could write if they wanted to. Their star is Charlotte and JC transfer Vincent Grier, a 6'5" slasher. Iowa State has better wins, with Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech among their victims. Curtis Stinson is the big scorer for the Cyclones; he's a powerfully built combo guard from the Bronx who definitely has a city game. When in doubt, go with the tougher conference and better backcourt. Cyclones do what Carl Spackler couldn't.
#1 North Carolina [-28] #16 Oakland
I would like to use this space to rant against the silly play-in game. First of all, taking two teams that think they have made the tournament and shipping them off to Dayton to play another game just to join the big boys at the real first round site is just cruel. Second, no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed and making them play an extra game just makes the margin of defeat worse (note the 28 point spread). Lastly, what is so magical about "34 at large bids"? Will the world end if it becomes 33? Does the NCAA hate Rolling Rock or something? Anyway, take the 28. Back door covers are the only reason to watch these games anyway, and 30-point wins in the Tourney are actually extremely rare these days.
Eddie Munster is back with his boys, and Gator fans think this is finally the year. The SEC may be down, but closing the season with seven straight wins, including the last four over Kentucky, Mississippi State, Alabama and Kentucky again is impressive any year. David Lee inside, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh outside - everyone knows the names. Their turnovers are down to under 14 a game, their three-point shooting is up to 39.3%. The Bobcats made the tournament by the slimmest margin possible as they escaped with a one-point overtime win over Buffalo. Talented, winners of eight out of nine, balanced, but… two frosh and soph in the starting lineup? Florida is too experienced, too confident and most importantly, too embarrassed over last year's first round flop. Oh, and did I mention Ohio plays zone, and Florida's guys can stroke it from 25 feet? Cats go missing in Gator country every day: bye-bye Bobcats.
#5 Villanova [-5] #12 New Mexico
20 years after Louie DePalma coached them to the national title, the Wildcats are back in the limelight. The most stunning display I witnessed all season was the hurting they put on a shell-shocked Kansas back in January – a 21-point win that wasn't that close. Curtis Sumpter and Allan Ray can score with anybody, and the whole team plays like a cocky playground team that knows they are holding the court for the afternoon. Their home loss to Syracuse was really their only poor outing of the entire season. New Mexico is "bristling" at their #12 seed, and Vegas seems to agree with them, as five is a pretty small number for this game. But haven't we seen this before from the Lobos? Weak schedule, trouble away from The Pit, a 26-6 record? They do have a secret weapon this year, however, in 6'8" super stud Danny Granger. His only weakness before this season was his range, so he comes back and hits 44-of-99 from three-land. Lock first rounder and could be serious trouble for ‘Nova. If he and Sumpter guard each other, which seems likely, well that might just be the best one-on-one competition of the whole tournament. I'm sure Dickie V would come up with 20 ACC matchups he likes better but we (and NBA scouts) know better. Color me skeptical on New Mexico until they finally do something on someone else's court or in the tourney. Oh yeah, and they lost to Oregon. Nova stakes their claim as the best of the many Wildcats, and Granger takes comfort in knowing he is about to become rich beyond the dreams of avarice (one for you Trekkies).
#7 Charlotte [+4 ½] #10 North Carolina State
Two teams from NC that never play each other leave the state to meet up in Massachusetts. The oddly named 49ers stagger into the Dance like a high school senior who chose prom night to first try tequila. Three straight loses by 12, 12 and 14. And lest I forget, Freakishly Tall Australian Alert #4: the famously untalented and well-traveled Martin Iti, who comically tried to leave for the NBA last year. FYI, they list him as 7'0" and his standing reach is an amazing 9'3.5". But his official without shoes height was measured at 6'8.5" in Chicago last year. With that logic I am almost 6'6", woohoo! I will once again skip quickly over the ACC team since there is no need to torture the three or four people reading this. At one point the Wolfpack East went 3-9 over a 12 game stretch. They righted the ship just in time to make the Tournament despite 13 losses. Julius Hodge led the team in every category, but despite being a senior, he still has his cringe-inducing moments where he goes one-on-five. They have played Duke twice, Georgia Tech twice, North Carolina twice, Wake Forest thrice and even Washington for good measure. The only danger is overlooking their second class citizen neighbors with the defending champs looming. NC State by very few or very many.
There is no human eraser in the middle like Okafor last year, but the Huskies are still scary inside. Josh Boone, Charlie Villanueva and Rudy Gay combine for 6.8 blocks, 38 points and 23 rebounds. No unguardable guard (3rd act, Man of La Mancha) like Ben Gordon, but Marcus Williams is an assist machine at the point. But the most important recent number for UConn is 20 minutes and 2-of-7. Those were Rashad Anderson's minutes and three-point shooting vs. Syracuse in the Big East final. If he gets his wind and his stroke back, they become a match-up nightmare. Central Florida is from somewhere in central Florida, I believe. Fun fact: nine teams in the Atlantic Sun conference finished within three games of each other, while poor Campbell was 0-20. Oh, to make things just a little tougher, did I mention that Worcester (Mass.) is about a 30-minute drive from Storrs (Conn.)? Good night, sweet Knights. Dunk fest as the Huskies play to the crowd.
#6 Wisconsin [-7 ½] #11 Northern Iowa
OK, I think that any tournament hoops is good hoops, but Wisconsin stretches even my limits. Ranked 19th in the country, it has been 11 games since they scored 70 points. They remind me of Washington State. It's almost like there is some connection between the two schools, some evil presence lurking in the background preaching maniacal defense and an offense based on boring the opponent into a mistake as the shot clock winds down. All I know for sure is that whoever is behind this painful viewing experience must be a dick. Northern Iowa has balanced scoring and knocks down three's. With nothing more than that to go on I'll be a sucker and take the points in a low scoring game. What the hell, might as well pick them for my bracket as well.
#3 Kansas [–14] #14 Bucknell
Let's hear it for the 100% graduation rate of the Bison! Now someone please explain why a team from Pennsylvania is playing a team from Kansas but it's the PA team that is called The Bison. They won at Pittsburgh, but that must have warned 'Nova who spanked them by 38 later in the season. The location does them no favors either. Everyone outside of Kansas would love to see the upset, but we know who is winning this game. Bucknell has an effective 6'11" scorer in Chris "Ed" McNaughton, but his tendency to foul is not a good asset when facing Wayne Simien. Here's hoping the Bison (no "s" please) keep it respectable… but I wouldn't bet on it.
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