I'm a big boy. I can take it. Go ahead and tell me to quit bitchin' that Syracuse was left out of the tournament. Well, I refuse to do so my friend, so you're just gonna have to listen to my argument as I kick off my tourney coverage with the two squads that were left scorching their heads on Selection Sunday...
Syracuse Orange (22-10) - Yea, I know it's a compelling argument that Syracuse never leaves New York for the first two months of the season, but I don't wanna hear how the made a "soft" schedule on purpose. It's not their fault that ranked teams like Wichita St. and Oklahoma St. tanked after they beat the Orange, nor is their any shame in losing to Drexel in the Carrier Dome. Fact is, 10 wins in the "unbalanced" Big East is just as good as 9 in the unbalanced Big 10 or the SEC. And it's certainly every bit as good as 10 Pac 10 wins, where everyone gets 4 automatic wins over Oregon St. and Arizona St. (combined 5-31 in Pac 10 play). I'm not totally in favor of Jim Boeheim telling anyone that will listen that the field needs to be expanded to like 100 teams, but all his complaining has prompted me to think of this solution. Make all the #16 seeds be "play in" game winners. That will add 3 teams to the at-large field, helping alleviate some of the bubble, and giving more worthy teams a shot. Sure it will piss off the small conference winners that get shoved in those games, but I don't know what to tell them. Get better I guess.
Drexel Dragons (23-8) - Bruiser Flint took his boys on an aggressive non conference tour that included wins @ Syracuse, @ Vermont and @ Villanova. They struggled a bit in the Colonial going 13-5, but of their 5 losses, three were to tournament teams Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth. Prediction: After ODU and VCU make decent runs in the tourney this year, and after George Mason's (another Colonial team) epic run last year, the Colonial will replace the Missouri Valley as the new Mid Major de jour. And it looks as if they probably deserve it.
Whether it's too high or too low, here are some teams that I think the selection committee completely whiffed on.
(9) Purdue (21-11) - It's officially time for Joe Lunardi to clean his little monocle. Joey Brackets, as he's referred to around ESPN, had Purdue on the outside looking in when his final projections came out. Not only did the Boilermakers make the tourney, it seems they made it with plenty of room to spare. Why is the question. People that want to argue unbalanced schedules have a great case here in Purdue. Here's a look at their 9 Big 10 wins: Penn St. twice, Michigan, Illinois, Michigan St., Indiana, Northwestern twice and Minnesota. I'll give them credit for beating 3 tourney teams in there, but where are the Ohio St. and Wisconsin wins to push them up so high in the seeding?
(4) Virginia (20-10) - The Cavaliers had a strong season, don't get me wrong. They just don't deserve to be seeded this high. Not only did they play a mediocre out of conference schedule, they closed out the year with loses @ Miami, @ Wake Forest and vs NC State. Probably better suited as a 6 or 7 seed.
(5) Tennessee (22-10) -The Volunteers are a perfect example of what's wrong with the RPI. The RPI gives too much credit to a team losing to really good teams as opposed to a team beating perhaps a lesser team. Example: Tennessee has loses this year to Butler, UNC, @ Ohio St., @ Florida, and @ Kentucky. Sure, they also beat Florida, Kentucky and Memphis, but this isn't an argument for them to be out, it's just that they're seeded too high. Outside of the losses to really good teams, this resume looks similar to another 22 win, 10 conference win high major tam that was left out of the dance. Gee they have similar colors too.
Rodney Dangerfield's Big 3...No Respect!
(6) Notre Dame (24-7) - Finshed 4th in the Big East and has road wins over Syracuse and Maryland on their resume. Only loss since Valentine's Day was by 2 @ Georgetown. Additionally, if you've seen these guys play in the last month or so, there's no doubt in your mind that they're better than a #6 seed.
(7) Nevada (26-4) - Here's a perfect example of the hypocrisy that is the NCAA tournament. When teams in your conference lose in early non conference play, your conference RPI suffers. Then, when a team like Nevada beats up on the teams in their conference, their RPI suffers. Never is it taken into account that, gee I don't know, these teams may have improved during conference play? Nope, Nevada loses twice in the final two weeks, both times to Utah St., and they fall from a likely #4 seed all the way to a 7.
(10) Creighton (22-10) - Forget the fact the Missouri Valley only got 2 teams in. How about the fact that Creighton is basically as good as Southern Illinois, and the Salukis are a #4 seed.
What the Hell?
(12) Illinois (23-11) - Went (1-6) against ranked teams, finished tied with Iowa in the Big 10 and their only big road win was a 4 point victory @ Indiana. Hell, even the University thought they were gonna miss the tourney. Why else would they have gotten rid of their mascot! (for those not in the know, Illinois was told if they were going to host any post season events they would need to get rid of their Indian mascot. Seeing as the NIT is the only time you host post season events in major men's college sports, they must have figured they were NIT bound. Sucks for them, that Indian mascot was the man.
(12) Arkansas (21-13) - Apparently 2 wins over Vanderbilt in 1 week and a 21 point loss to Florida on Selection Sunday were enough to push the Razorbacks over the top. I'm more concerned with them ending their SEC season on a 4-4 stretch and again, losing by 21 to Florida in the SEC title game.
(11) Stanford (18-12) - Basically, the Cardinal got in because they played a balanced conference schedule. At least that's what I've been hearing as defense for them making the tourney. I must be really wrong about the Pac 10, because if a team that finishes 6th in conference, and ends the season on a stellar 4-7 run. Oh, and their only road wins in conference are over Cal and Oregon St., which bodes really well for neutral site games doesn't it?
OK. Now that I got all that out of my system, it's time to deal with the bracket as it's actually constructed. As much as I'd like it to be so, I don't build the sucker, I'm just forced to deal with all the quandaries it creates. Here's my take on how I feel the 4 regions break down...
Regional Breakdown Midwest
(1) Florida - It's rare that a defending National Champ returns all of their starters, and anytime that happens, that team has to be considered a major player. I'm not sure if the Gators have the hunger to repeat, but I wouldn't count them out in the early rounds that's for sure.
(12) Old Dominion - Finished 2nd in the Colonial and have a 13 point win @ Georgetown on their resume. Doesn't hurt that they are playing a Butler team that was probably placed a seed or two too high.
(11) Winthrop - Fact: Greg Marshall has taken Winthrop to the tourney 6 times. Fact: Winthrop is 0-6 in the big dance under Marshall. Maybe you can say their due? If that's not enough for ya, their only losses since the start of December '06 are to Wisconsin and Texas A&M.
(6) Notre Dame - Like I said earlier, the Irish are seeded way too low here. They can shoot, can get exceptionally hot from downtown with Colin Falls and Russell Carter, and have great ball handling with the rapidly improving frosh PG Tory Jackson. They might run into trouble against a hot Oregon squad, but if the Irish can get hot it's gonna be tough for anyone to slow them down. That game could easily score out in the 90's though for each squad, which would no doubt be a great show.
(10) Georgia Tech - Paul Hewitt's Jackets are peaking at the right time, and that's always a dangerous thing. After starting the year at 13-8, Tech has gone 7-3 to close out, with their only loses @ Duke, @ Virginia and an OT thriller to Wake Forest. Sure that Wake loss in the ACC tourney looks bad, but if these young guns can regroup, they are gonna be a tough out. They're really young, led by freshmen Javaris Crittendon ( 14.6 / 3.7 / 5.7) and Thaddeus Young (14.6 / 4.9 / 2.1), but sometimes that can go from being a weakness, to a strength if they play like they have no fear.
Best First Round Games
(7) UNLV vs (10) Georgia Tech - A lot of people are saying UNLV got snubbed by being a 7, but not me. That being said, if Tech doesn't come out to play, the Runnin Rebels do have what it takes to hang around. Also, you have to think the winner of this one has a good shot at knocking out the Wisconsin Badgers in round 2.
(6) Notre Dame vs (11) Winthrop - See above. Winner here has a very good shot at making the Sweet 16.
(1) Kansas - I've had Kansas at the top of my poll for quite some time now, so it should be no surprise that I think they are the team to beat. They have the guard play to make it deep in the tourney and the big guys to help create match up problems or D up the occasional big man the opponent might throw at them.
(2) UCLA - They aren't as good as a year ago, but they are again aided by the fact they won't have to leave California until the Final Four in Atlanta. And I don't wanna hear how playing in Sacramento and San Jose isn't like a home game for the Bruins. I understand that LA isn't all that close to those venues, but I also understand that all UCLA grads don't all stay and live in LA. Trust me, they will be well represented in their early round games, and that should help give them the boost they likely need.
(11) Virginia Commonwealth - The Rams don't have great size, but they have great guards. B.A Walker, Eric Maynor and Jesse Pellot-Rosa all average more than 13 points and combine for about 12 boards a game. Doesn't hurt for them either that they play an overrated Duke squad in round one, and a possible match up with Pitt in round 2, another slow methodical team they could definitely hang with.
Best First Round Game
(8) Kentucky vs (9) Villanova - Two big name programs, each with one really big time player. Kentucky big man Randolph Morris has essentially been a disappointment since deciding not to go pro, while Nova frosh PG Scottie Williams has been absolutely electric the last month of the season (I don't know if you caught the 40 he dropped a few weeks back...ill). And honestly, who doesn't want to watch Tubby squirm after the Cats get ousted in round one....again. Betting Tip: Take the Wildcats and don't look back!
(2) Georgetown - The Big East champs have got to be considered one of the hottest teams heading into the tourney. Before their February 26th loss @ Syracuse, the Hoyas hadn't lost since January 13th @ Pittsburgh. Add to that, they have one of 2 legit centers in the whole field in 7'2" Roy Hibbert, and the most versatile wing in the country, Big East player of the year, Jeff Green.
(1) North Carolina - Tons of depth, tons of talent, and tons of youth. Two of those things are very good, but the third might be a sign that this team is perhaps one year away from making a deep March run.
(4) Texas - Kevin Freaking Durant. That's really all I got for ya.
(14) Oral Roberts - Before you ask. The answer is NO. I'm not just picking this team because their name has the word "Oral" in it. Or the fact that whenever I am with someone named Rob and the bottom line scrolls an "Oral Rob" I can get a good laugh out of it. These boys can actually ball. They rocked through the Mid-Continent at 12-2, and are road tested, with a big win earlier in the season @ Kansas to go with other big test @ Georgetown, @ BYU and @ Arkansas. Caleb Green is a monster inside, averaging about 20 points and 10 boards a game, and they go about 9 deep. Doesn't hurt that they're playing a Washington St. squad that's totally new to the NCAA experience.
(9) Michigan St. - Ten straight NCAA tournaments, 4 Final Fours, and 1 National Title. Yeah, I'd say it's a bad idea to bet against Tom Izzo and the Spartans come March. Especially when he's facing his protege, Tom Crean in the first round, and a young and inexperienced UNC squad come round 2.
Best First Round Game
(3) Washington St. vs (14) Oral Roberts - Upset of the first round? ORAL ROB!
(1) Ohio St. - I think both the Big 10 and Ohio St. are overrated, but that doesn't mean the Buckeyes can't make some noise. Oden still hasn't convinced me he has what it takes to carry a team for a long run, but maybe Mike Conley Jr. will step up and become the go-to guy that leads the Bucks to Atlanta.
(3) Texas A&M - A lot of people have been jockin' A&M big time since the bracket came out, and for good reason, but I see one major problem. Are they one of the most talented teams? You bet your ass. But having a possible 2nd round match up against Louisville in Lexington, Kentucky may be enough of a stumbling block to trip up Acie Law and friends.
(7) Nevada - I'll listen to people that want to tell me Nevada didn't play a single game against a top 25 team this year, but that's not gonna change my opinion of the Wolfpack. I'm not saying they can book their hotel rooms for Atlanta, but anytime you have a player of the year candidate in Nick Fazekas (20.5 ppg / 11.2 rpg) and two exceptional supporting players in Marcelus Kemp (18.3 ppg) and Ramon Sessions (12.5 ppg / 4.8 rpg / 4.7 apg) you are going to be far from easy to beat. As potent as those three are though, if senior guard Kyle Shiloh isn't able to go due to injury, it could keep these guys from reaching their true potential.
(10) Creighton - One of my favorite names in college hoops belongs to Creighton guard, Nate Funk. He leads the way at 17.6 ppg for the Blue Jays, but gets a lot of help from 3 other averaging 10+ points and 5+ boards a game. Talk about balance. Tough luck for them they get a way under seeded Nevada squad in the first round. Mark my words though. Whoever wins that game is the squad that will knock out Memphis.
(12) Long Beach St. - The more I think about it, the more I concede that I would pretty much pick anyone to beat the Tennessee Volunteers. That being said, the Long Beach St. 49ers are as good a squad as any to do the dead. They have no real non conference success to speak of, but with 7 seniors getting major minutes, you have to think they'll be reeking of desperation. Sometimes that;s a good thing, and sometimes it's not. But, against Tennessee, I'd like to think it'll be enough.
(13) Albany - A lot of pundits are saying that the Albany Dane are seeded way too high seeing as they only won the America East tourney and not the regular season, but that's not stopping me from labeling them as a prime Cinderella candidate. The Danes are returning 5 starters to a team that almost pulled off the first ever 16 vs 1 upset last year against UCONN, and you gotta think that motivation can keep them in a first round game, especially against over hyped Virginia.
Best First Round Game
(7) Nevada vs (10) Creighton - I really like both these teams, and they can really fill it up when they get hot. Watch how well Nevada G Kyle Shiloh plays. I'm not saying "as he goes they go", but if he can help D up Funk, it'll take a lot of pressure off the rest of the 'Pack.
Allrighty, so there's you have my analysis for the first round or so of the 2007 NCAA tournament. I know I said I wasn't gonna fill out your brackets for ya, or give you my championship pick, but I will leave you with this. Here's my ranking of the top 5 teams I feel have the best draw, and thus the best chance of taking home the title.
1. Kansas Jayhawks
3. Florida Gators
And just one final reminder. Although the "Play In" Game is tonite, it still doesn't mean you've missed your chance to man up and compete in my NCAA tourney pool. If you haven't received an email already, just ask me for additional info and I'll pass it along to ya.
*Speaking of manning up. Trust me when I say I love getting comments on here. Especially when they come from sac-less kid touchers who don't even have enough guts to leave a name and obviously doesn't have the brain capacity to even comprehend most of my stories. I'm talking to whoever left the comment last week on Tom Brady's alleged baby making, and seemed to take offense to a joke I made about Chad Jackson. Well, Mr. Anonypuss, anytime you want to have a legit discussion or argument, you know where I am so feel free to bring it. I hope to one day argue sports for a living, so I'm welcome to any challenge you might try to bring my way. But if you're just gonna hide behind your firewall, then I'd appreciate you just go back to your Dungeons and Dragons tournament and leave the real sports to the true pimps. Oh, but thanks for reading.
*And, since I told my good friend Cindy that I would giver her a shout out since she said I was the shit, I'm going to keep my word. Look at her folks, she's one foxy broad. And see obviously knows talent when she sees it.