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One More Day…

March 17, 2010

Until one of my favorite days of the year.

The beginning of March Madness.

I have so many fond memories of these weekends. Watching low-budget mid-majors, like Gonzaga, George Mason and Valparaiso, shock sports viewers. Being taken out of school several times to enjoy father-son bonding with various CBS announcers. Having such great hope for my brackets, only to watch them crumble (sometime on the first day, such as the year that I had Syracuse winning the whole thing only to see them fall to Vermont in the opening round).

With the excitement and anticipation for a great three weekends of sports (tiding me over until opening day of baseball), I present 16 things to watch for (well, according to my bracket) in this year’s NCAA tournament.

1) This will not be a year that a number 1 or 2 loses on the first day. I think North Texas is probably the best #15 seed, and may have been able to outmuscle a #2 (such as Ohio State) for a tough win. But they face a K-State team with quick guards and tough perimeter defense that will force a bunch of turnovers. I think this will be the only close game between a 1 or a 2 on the first two days.

2) Poor Purdue. I hate to see a team with a legitimate chance at the Final Four have it unravel because of a fluke injury. They’ve still got two great players in E’Tuawn Moore and JaJuan Johnson, but they face a tough, athletic Siena team with four guys averaging over 13 points who should be able to overpower them. With Robbie Hummel, I think Purdue would be at least an Elite Eight team; without him, they’re done on day 1.

3) Other potential Cinderellas I see winning on day one include Murray State (all five starters average over 10 points a game) playing against an inconsistent Vanderbilt team, Utah State, a tough defensive-minded squad who’s playing essentially a home game in nearby Spokane against Texas A&M, and San Diego State, who won a tough Mountain West tournament with four guys averaging double figures, playing against a short-benched Tennessee squad.

4) Best first-round match-up: Temple v. Cornell. Neither team makes a lot of mistakes. Temple can counter Cornell’s 7-footer, Jeff Foote, with Lavoy Allen. Cornell has an incredible inside-outside game (best 3 point shooting team in the tourney), but Temple has an incredible backcourt themselves. I’ve got Cornell winning barely, but I may be regretting that call.

5) I didn’t pick UTEP to beat Butler, unlike every sports pundit that I’m reading. Yes, I know that UTEP has a renovated Derrick Caracter and good guard play from Randy Culpepper. I’ve heard about the their incredible FG% defense and supreme athleticism. Butler hasn’t lost a game since Christmas. I know they play in a weaker conference, but they manhandled an athletic Siena team, have just as much inside presence as UTEP, and have smart players who don’t turn the ball over. It’ll be close, but I think Butler will hang on.

6) Everyone’s talking about how Kansas got the shaft with all of the tournament winners and what not in their bracket. I honestly don’t see them having a tough game until the Elite Eight, where I have them playing Georgetown. Kentucky’s the team we should be talking about getting hosed. They have the most difficult #2 team in West Virginia, I have them playing a very athletic (although undisciplined) Texas in round 2, and a style of team that could frustrate a young Kentucky team in Wisconsin/Cornell in round 3.

7) Four exciting second round games I have: Michigan State/Maryland (Izzo vs. Williams), Washington/New Mexico (two of the top four teams out west), BYU/K-State (more on that in a minute), and Syracuse (sans Onauku)/Gonzaga.

8) This year’s version of Stephen Curry: Jimmer Fredette, BYU. Two games of 40+, 46% shooter from a 6’2 combo guard (shot 48% last year), and 44% from 3. Maybe the best shooter in the tournament.

9) With that, my overall tournament Cinderella is BYU. With Jimmer Fredette injured this year, they beat and outrebounded UTEP in El Paso, with 20 and 11 from Tyler Haws and beat UNLV (Fredette did play in that game, but shot 2/10 on a gimpy leg). Everyone rebounds on the team, and I can see them beating K-State; they have great guards but an inconsistent inside game.

10) Four teams that could bust my bracket: Wisconsin, UTEP, Georgia Tech, Cal.

11) Yes, Cal. Everyone’s been justifiably knocking on the Pac-10 this year, but Cal’s offense can keep up with Duke in round 2 (assuming they beat Louisville in round 1). They shoot 48%, 37% from three, and are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the tournament. Duke for once has size in this tournament, but they don’t have the quickness to keep up with Jerome Randle.

12) Speaking of Duke…They finally got the tournament they wanted. Easy bracket–weak 2, 4, and 5 seeds that all could be going home the first weekend. Still not making the Final Four. I’ve got them going out to a tough Baylor team in Houston in the Elite Eight.

13) Baylor’s the team I’ve got to shock everyone and make the Final Four. People are knocking they’re defensive efficiency, whatever that is, but they’ve got two incredible guards (Dunn and Carter) and the best shot blocker in college ball, Ekpe Udoh. They should beat a tough Notre Dame team in round 2–Harangody/Udoh is a dream matchup, but Notre Dame doesn’t have the most athletic guards. My fear is that they’re too short on the bench, but they, in my mind, have the easiest patch to Indianapolis. And they’re a good team that knows how to win in March (last year’s NIT finalist).

14) Other Elite Eight teams in my bracket include the four #1s, Georgetown, West Virginia, and BYU.

15) Final Four: Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Baylor

16) Championship game: Syracuse over Kentucky. Kentucky may be the most skilled group of individuals in the tournament, but Syracuse is the best team. I don’t think Onauku’s injury will be that big of a deal by the first week of April, and the 2-3 zone defense may be too much for Kentucky’s freshman-laden squad.

How many of these predictions do you think will come true? I’ll grade myself after the tournament. What are some other predictions you have for the tournament?

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