Tourney Talk

The field is set and now it is time to get down to business. Here are my thoughts on each region and the tournament as a whole:

 MIDWEST

Upset Alert: 11 Winthrop vs. 6 Notre Dame

This seems to be becoming a trendy pick for a lot of the nation so I’m  not sure how much of an upset this would be. Nevertheless, Winthrop is a dangerous squad looking for their first ever NCAA tourney win, and this is likely the best team they’ve ever had. Expect a lot of three pointers in this one, and I really feel that Winthrop will be hungrier.

Best Predicted Matchup: 10 Georgia Tech vs. 2 Wisconsin

What an intriguing contest this has potential to be, pairing two incredibly diverse styles of play against one another. The young Yellow Jackets run a speedy, fast-paced offense while the wiser, more experienced Badgers rely on defense and smart shooting within a half-court offense. Without Brian Butch, the Badgers aren’t quite the force they once were, and I could see this one going either way.

Regional Final: 1 Florida vs. 3 Oregon

You’d have to be crazy not to pick Florida at least this far, as the Gators return the same team that won the title last season, and that team is clicking once again. Oregon looked sharp in the Pac-10 final and might have the scariest perimeter game in the country right now , but in the end Florida’s experience will likely prove too much for the Ducks. I think Florida’s size and offensive efficiency will get the job done and move on to a second consecutive final four. Pick: FLORIDA

WEST

Upset Alert: 9 Villanova vs. 8 Kentucky

I don’t really like any of the lower seeded teams in this region to win their first round games. Illinois doesn’t match up well with Virginia Tech in my opinion, and as much as I want to, I just can’t bring myself to pick VCU over Duke. And obviously I won’t be picking Gonzaga over my beloved Hoosiers, especially since I didn’t last year when Gonzaga was much better and Indiana was worse. So this is the best I can do.  Villanova rolls with the more talented team.

Best Predicted Matchup: 4 Southern Illinois vs. 5 Virginia Tech

This battle of up and coming programs rewards its winner with a likely matchup against top-seeded Kansas. Southern Illinois relies on its staunch defense while Virginia Tech has the ability to run with one of the nation’s best backcourts, and it should be interesting to see how that balance plays itself out. I’ll give the slight edge to the Salukis as I believe their play is a bit more consistent and that their defensive intensity will be able to neutralize Dowdell and Gordon’s sharp shooting.
Regional Final: 1 Kansas vs. 2 UCLA

The Bruins struggled down the stretch but should have enough gusto to get to this game against arguably the nation’s hottest (and deepest) team. Both teams have incredible backcourts in Afflalo and Collison for UCLA along with Rush, Chalmers and Collins for Kansas. I give the Jayhawks a slight edge in the frontcourt behind the play of Julian Wright and Darrell Russell. Kansas also seems to be the hotter team entering the tourney. I expect a low-scoring battle with Kansas winning narrowly, although UCLA could benefit from the game being in San Jose.   PICK: Kansas

EAST

Upset Alert: 12 Arkansas vs. 5 USC, 14 Oral Roberts vs. 3 Washington State

The hardest region also seems to have the most potential for shake-ups. Arkansas is the talk of the tourney after grabbing what many see as the final spot in the field in undeserving fashion. Teams in this situation often come out with the feeling that they have something to prove (i.e., George Mason in a similar situation last year). Aside from that, they get a USC team first round that looked depleted as they were utterly pounded in the Pac-10 championship, and I like the Hogs in this one. Could this one also be a preview of next year’s college football championship?

Oral Roberts hasn’t gotten much respect, but they boast an athletic and talented team capable of hanging with the nation’s finest (they beat Kansas at the Fieldhouse earlier this season). Washington State has overachieved all year in an overrated conference, and looks ripe for the picking here.

Best Predicted Matchup: 1 North Carolina vs. 4 Texas

This is arguably the best game of the entire tournament, and if it happens the two teams will meet relatively early in the Sweet Sixteen round. Both of these talented squads rely heavily on freshman which should make for an interesting battle. Look for all-world forward Kevin Durant to match up with Carolina’s Brendan Wright and for the young backcourts to put on quite a show in what is likely to be a high scoring affair. The Longhorns have played incredibly well down the stretch despite losing twice to Kansas and once to Texas A & M in their final six games of the regular season. The Tarheels have certainly had their problems, but I expect the combination of talent, depth and coaching to give them the edge. I hope this game happens because it certain to be a classic.

Regional Final: 1 North Carolina vs. 2 Georgetown

Many feel that North Carolina is the deepest and most talented team in the nation, and in picking tourney games I usually choose to assume that teams will play to their highest possible level. If that is the case, the Tarheels should be in good shape, but this one won’t be a gimme by any means. Youth and inexperience are always a reason for pause, but in this instance they will face an experienced, incredibly athletic Georgetown team that was the only squad that gave eventual champion Florida a close game last year. I still think Carolina’s speed and athleticism will be the trump card here, but I’ll probably have the Hoyas winning in a lower stakes bracket for a hedge. PICK: North Carolina

SOUTH

Upset Alert: 10 Creighton vs. 2 Memphis, 2nd round

Assuming Creighton gets past Nevada, which is somewhat of an upset in itself, I really like their chances to knock off an athletic but untested Memphis team. This Memphis squad has accomplished a lot without half the talent from last year’s top seeded Elite Eight team, but I fear that they won’t be ready for a fundamentally sound team such as Creighton or even Nevada for that matter. I like the Blue Jays chances a touch better as they seem to be on a hot streak entering the tourney coming off a trouncing of a highly respected Southern Illinois team.

Best Projected Matchup: 1 Ohio State vs. 4 Tennessee

This rematch of a hotly competitive contest earlier in the year should provide fireworks. Greg Oden is healthier than the first time around which will probably prove to be the difference, but Tennessee had this game in the bag in Columbus before the Buckeyes hit a game winning three as time trickled away. It remains somewhat of a mystery how Tennessee contained Ohio State’s frontcourt so effectively, but one thing is for certain, and that is that Chris Lofton is a major force to be reckoned with. The Buckeyes seem to have finally hit their stride, but being a team that defends heavily on the three, they are always susceptible to an off night and can’t take games like this one for granted.

Regional Final: 1 Ohio State vs. 3 Texas A & M 

As much as I wanted to, I refuse to pick all four #1 seeds to the final four, even though I truly believe that one day this will happen and it will produce am unforgettable weekend of hoops. Luckily for me, the selection committee, who seem to have misplaced their atlases, sent the 30-3 Buckeyes to the San Antonio region. If a deep and talented Aggie team can overcome another scheduling mishap and beat Louisville in Lexington in the second round, I really like how they match up against Ohio State in what would be a virtual home game. Acie Law is the most clutch player in the country and knows how to win games down the stretch. Josh Carter leads the country in three point percentage and A&M has a formidable presence in the paint between Joseph Jones and Antanas Kavaliasukus. Something is trying to tell me that the college basketball gods won’t allow it, but I’m going out on a limb.  Pick: Texas A & M

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