My NCAA tournament bracket checklist: 1) Have I left emotion out of it? Yep, Connecticut wasn’t invited to the Big Dance so I’ve got no allegiances. (The same can’t be said for my NIT bracket) 2) Have I been real with myself? Check. I’ve never seen half of these teams play and chances are, even the loudest experts on ESPN have only watched Siena play twice all season. I won’t get sucked into the trendy upset picks. 3) Did I pick the team with most talent to win it all? Absolutely.
Look, I realize you care about my tournament picks about as much as I care about your bad beat stories, but I think I got it this time. Really I do. So sit back and let mine be the 187th tournament preview you read this week.
Big East Beware
Last week, I wrote that I was concerned how difficult the Big East was this season and nothing has changed. Just look at the NIT, where three of the four teams from the conference were eliminated in the opening round against inferior teams. The other, UConn, was down with a minute to go against Northeastern.
The biggest question professional scouts have about college players is how they’ll respond to playing 82 games in a season. A lot of young guys break down because they just can’t handle the beating they take night in and night out. The closest comparison to the NBA in college is the Big East, where an off night against any team in the league will result in a loss. Villanova looked exhausted at the end of the season. Notre Dame was gassed by the end of the conference tournament. And Syracuse is banged up and has lost two straight. West Virginia is the only team I have making it to the regional final, but that’s as far as they’ll go.
The upset that won’t happen
You know why almost every Major League Baseball players spends a few years riding busses in the minor leagues? Because they need to first prove themselves against guys their own age. Then they need to do it against guys just as good as them. And then they need to hold their own against the best of the best. That’s when they make it the show.
Cornell might have the best three-point shooting team in the tournament, but they’re still from the Ivy League and Temple is pissed off about getting no respect. Don’t be surprised if this one is never close and the Owls cruise into the second round.
The 13-16 seed with the best shot to win a game
Sam Houston State, because they can score a ton of points and Baylor is already thinking about a regional final matchup with Duke.
The biggest sleeper
Washington. The Pac 10 champions had one bad month, losing five times in January. After losing at USC on Jan. 23, the Huskies went 12-2 down the stretch and started to look like the team that was considered a Final Four contender at the beginning of the season. This is a team that has a great chance of making a run to the regional finals, especially if I’m right about Big East teams having fatigue problems.
Defense wins championships, but you still need a scorer
Which is why the only teams with a legitimate chance to win a national championship are Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State and Syracuse. For the record, I do have the Orange going out in the Sweet 16, but that’s because I think they’ll struggle against Vanderbilt, a team that plays a completely different style than anyone in the Big East.
My Final Four
Ohio State over Kansas State
Kentucky over Duke
Kentucky 75 -67
Feel free to list your picks in the comments section.