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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

2011 NCAA Tournament Preview: Searching For Bobby Bilas

Digger what?!?
Well, friends.  I did it.  After taking a week off from my own brain, and letting my eyes tell me what was actually going on, I finally obtained that oft-elusive, yet not always fulfilling, "moment of clarity".  I had cleared my head of all my opinion based, preconceived notions, and I was ready to tackle the bracket as if it were a chess board, and I was Bobby motha F'n Fisher!..

What I hadn't anticipated, however, was that while I may have flushed all the junk out of my system by taking a week off from my normal, analytical ways, that didn't mean I was no longer addicted.  If anything, it increased the craving to the point where when I finally did look at the completed bracket, I'm pretty sure I blacked out for a few seconds and collapsed into a pile of my own laundered unmentionables.  A soft landing, to be sure, but upon finding my feet again I realized that all I had accomplished over the past week was for not.  I'd tried to save myself from myself, and all I'd done was created a monster.  A particularly charming and handsome monster, but one whose insatiable blood lust for all things college hoops had, yet again, clouded his thinking...


The day "Farokhmanesh" became a curse word
So there I was, standing in a pile of my own underwear, realizing that I had mixed my head up worse than ever, when the sweet docile tones of one wise man actually brought me back to earth.  Actually gave me that moment of clarity that I had been seeking all week, and thought I had obtained.  That man's name, is Jay Bilas, and here's what he said that put my mind at ease...

"...but what do I know? I had Kansas winning it all last year, and they lost in the 2nd round!"

What do you know, Jay? Only more than anyone when it comes to the topic of college basketball.  So yeah, realizing that even the best of the best can look the fool when it comes to something as enigmatic and unpredictable as the NCAA Tournament, really put my mind at ease.  Or, to be honest, his words were able to quell my ego long enough that I was able to actually sit down and pen out my predictions without any fear of what the results might do to my credibility...

Hey, I admit it.  As much as I won't let my bracket's poor performance detract from my enjoyment of the tournament, my ego does take a little hit every time my entry finds itself towards the bottom half of the pack.  But listening to Bilas humbling himself, it just brought me to that place where I knew that worst case scenario, I'll have put myself in a great position to win.  That's really all you can ask for.  That's just the Tournament.  It's as unpredictable as it is entertaining, and we wouldn't have it any other way...

But hey, that's enough loser talk for one day.  I know I've more than humbled myself at the feet of this thing, and if you have any respect for this great beast, I'm sure by now you've done the same.  So let's get on to dissecting this sucker, so we can kick it's ass, and reap it's delicious fruits.  Oh and speaking of reaping delicious fruits, how about this new pimptastic Rooch Nation format that I reaped as a birthday gift from my good friend, and Rooch Nation graphic designer, Kevin "Frosco" Tomasso?  Pretty pimptastic, huh?  And not only do I think it conveys exactly the type of attitude I attempt to provide here, it also (allegedly) is going to make the Nation a much more comment friendly webspace, which is something I've long thought was missing...

So getcha fancy shoes on kids, cuz the studying is over.  School is out, and it's time to dance.  Now let's get to it!

Weeeeeeee!...

2011 NCAA Tournament Preview


EAST
Sweet 16
(1) Ohio St. vs (4) Kentucky
(2) North Carolina vs (3) Syracuse

We start our adventure in this year's "Region of Death", where I don't really expect the carnage to begin until the Sweet 16 in Newark, New Jersey.  Yup, as cautious and as bland as it sounds, I'm picking the top four seeds, or the "chalk", to make it out of the opening weekend to create a pair of storied match ups that should have each team's respective fan bases thumping their chests for a solid 4 days before their teams square off...

But hey, as boring and predictable as these picks may look, there's plenty of reason behind them.  The Ohio St. Buckeyes have been in my top 5 all season long, and provide a great mix of experience and explosiveness.    They have great guard play, play great defense, and have a distinct edge with potential Player of the Year, freshmen Jared Sullinger, playing a beastly power forward and establishing himself as arguably the Nation's top rebounder...

UNC seemed to be clicking on all cylinders heading into the dance, but an ugly loss to Duke and their penchant to fall behind early may not bode well for their March success.  That being said, Their first two opponents shouldn't ask them to play much defense, and these offensively talented Heels should be able score with anyone.  Shooting their way over a staunch zone defense may be a different story, but that's something they wouldn't have to worry about until the Sweet 16...

The Kentucky Wildcats have a quirky draw with stylistic mismatches against the likes of Princeton and possibly West Virginia, but the way they're playing defense right now just isn't too be ignored.  That, and their overall talent.  Calipari's kids may have fallen short last year when expectations were super high, but the way they've more or less slowly developed over the course of this season, points to the fact that they could very well be peaking at the right time, and in store for one Hell of a March...
Can they handle the pressure?

Lastly, we have MY Syracuse Orange.  The final team selected to my Sweet 16 out of the East, and the most difficult team to select to my Sweet 16 out of the East.  Why?  Well it's that dangerous potential second round match up against either Xavier or Marquette.  In Xavier, they'd see a team built to shoot over their zone, and in Marquette, a Big East foe that's already beaten the Orange this season, all be it at home.  Either way, a tough match up, and a game that they'll need to play at their best in order to advance.  I do think their tough guards, and long defense will eventually lead the Orange to the Sweet 16 and possibly beyond, though, despite the fact their style of winning will probably give me an ulcer...      

Potential Sleeper: (11) Marquette - If you are feeling frisky (and not wearing Orange), don't be afraid to advance Buzz Williams and his Golden Eagles all the way to the Sweet 16...and possibly further.  Xavier is no pushover in the first round, but if you saw the passion that Marquette was playing with down the stretch, it wouldn't surprise me to see them put together a few wins on the opening weekend, and find themselves spoiling the possible historic Sweet 16 match ups with a Cinderella run of their own...

WEST
Kyrie Irving is hungry, but is he ready?
Sweet 16
(1) Duke vs (13) Oakland
(2) San Diego St. vs (3) UCONN

In the West, everything begins and ends with the Duke Blue Devils, and the possible return of super frosh PG, Kyrie Irving.  Without him, the Dukies won the ACC Conference Tourney and assured themselves a #1 seed.  With him, they put themselves on a short list of team's very capable of cutting down the nets in Houston, and becoming the 1st back to back Champs since the Florida Gators turned the trick in '06 and '07.  They may lack a little size and toughness inside, but that's never held Coach K's crew back before, and I don;t expect it to hold them back this time around , either...

Their opponent in the Sweet 16?  Well that would be none other than the Oakland Grizzles.  Yup, Cinderella herself.  The mid major upstart will benefit both from a beneficial draw, playing overrated power conference squads (Texas, Memphis, Arizona), and the fact that they're one of the most offensively efficient clubs in the Nation.  It's a risk to be sure, taking a 13 seed to reach the Sweet 16, but seeing as it appears that it's merely a coin flip as to which team will make it out of that 4-team pod, rolling with the Grizzles may not only be the right call, but might also find those that pick them in an enviable position when it comes to scoring much needed bracket points...

Next up we have the enigma that is the San Diego St. Aztecs.  An enigma mostly due to the fact that outside of games with BYU, nobody has seen them play this year.  Well, much like Oakland, I like SDSU's road to the Sweet 16 too much not to pass them through.  They've proven time and again this year that they have what it takes to beat mid-level type teams, and that's exactly what they'll get in the 1st 2 rounds.  Knowing they'll get to play in Anaheim should also serve as further motivation (as if they should need any) to help guide them to the Tournament's 2nd weekend...

"Kemba, I can't find my laptop. Have you seen it?"
The final team out of the West, is the UCONN Huskies.  Arguably the hottest team in all the land.  And while a lot of the talk this week has been whether or not power conference teams will be able to "get up" for games against seemingly inferior opponents, I don't foresee that as a major problem for Jim Calhoun and his Huskies.  I don't think they'll be tired after their 5 game run in the Big East Tourney, either.  No, they're unraveling will come when their supporting cast fails to show up, something I doubt will jump up to bite them until they're sitting in Anaheim at the Sweet 16...

Potential Sleeper: (6) Cincinnati - Much like they're 11th seeded conference brethren, Marquette, Mick Cronin's Bearcats have all the makings of a potential sleeper.  They play great defense, they're playing their best ball of the season, and should they survive their opening game, they'll get a familiar foe in the second round.  If you don't like UCONN, or you're just looking for a team to trip them up should Kemba falter, these are your guys.  And from there, it wouldn't be unreasonable at all to pencil in Cincy not only in the Sweet 16, but beyond...

SOUTHWEST
Colonel Ricky 'WhiteSuit' Sanders-Pitino
Sweet 16
(1) Kansas vs (4) Louisville
(2) Notre Dame vs (3) Purdue

Jay Bilas himself said that the Jayhawks are the most well rounded team in this year's field, and shockingly, I don't disagree.  With steady veteran guards, a plethora of athletic swingmen, and the most versatile big men in the country, there isn't much not to like about their chances of reaching yet another Final Four.  Then again, the same could be said for the Jayhawks last year when they were bounced in the 2nd round by Northern Iowa.  I've gotta think this group has learned it's lesson, though, and that loss should only serve to motivate them in this year's quest for the program's 2nd National Championship in the last 4 years...

On the other side, Bill Self's crew will run into none other than my bracket's namesake, Ricky WhiteSuit and the Louisville Cardinals.  Rick Pitino and his stable of ball hawking shooters were built for a deep March run, and anything short of a Sweet 16 appearance would flat out shock me.  Having a dominant big man may be what puts a "good team" over the top in the Tournament, but lacking that, you're going to want as many versatile and clutch guards that you can find.  The Cardinals have that in spades, which is why they're probably the most dangerous team without a #1 by their name in this year's field...
He wants what big bro has...

In the bottom half of the SouthWest, I like both Notre Dame and Purdue to ride through their fan friendly region of Chicago and meet up in San Antonio for a spot in the Elite 8.  The Irish are less of a question mark, having played their best ball down the stretch, but they're still a streaky team that relies heavily on their ability to make outside shots.  Purdue, on the other hand, has sputtered down the stretch, but seemingly has all the earmarks of a team that should be contending for a regional title.  Both squads are far from perfect, but seeing as both were ranked at 2 or higher in my poll over the last month, and both have less than perilous roads to Texas, I'll have no trouble keeping the faith that the 'good version' of each squad shows up, and pushing them through to the Sweet 16...

Potential Sleeper: (12) Richmond - The Spiders are one of the hottest teams in the country, coming off an A-10 Tournament title, and they have athleticism to spare.  A hot team, with a lot of bounce.  Do i really need to explain any more as to why they could be a potential sleeper?  Only issue for Richmond, is that they'll likely land Louisville in round 2, a team that's just as athletic, and even more talented.  Still, they're worth a look, especially if you're plan is to have all the Big East teams out of the filed before the 2nd weekend...

SOUTHEAST
That's "the look of a champion", but I'm not quite sold...
Sweet 16
(1) Pittsburgh vs (12) Utah St.
(2) Florida vs (3) BYU

I've gone with them all year, so there's no backing down now.  Well, at least when it comes to the Sweet 16.  The Pitt Panthers are a complete team from top to bottom.  From coaching, to defense, to offensive efficiency, there really isn't much not to like about this team.  Hence, why I had them at #1 for most of the year.  It's their inability to win close games that scares me though, with the loss to UCONN and the one I witnessed against St. John's serving as two prime, late season examples.  That shouldn't prevent them from reaching the Sweet 16, but barring a regional MVP worthy performance from either Ashton Gibbs or Brad Wanamaker, the Sweet 16 could very well be where their run comes to an end.  Unless of course their opponent happens to be...

...the 12th seeded Utah St. Aggies.  I know a lot of people like Kansas St. to knock USU out in the 1st round*, but I'm bucking that trend and taking the experienced Aggie squad to dance all the way to the Sweet 16.  They lost as 12 a year ago, and are only 1-7 in tourney games overall (lost their last 5 opening round games), but both Utah St. and head coach Stew Morrill, are definitely due for a breakthrough.  I'm not knocking Kansas St. so much, but I do think wins are there to be had in that 4 team pod, and it's not unreasonable to think this 30 win squad is the one that eventually emerges.  Especially one that ranks in the Nation's Top 10 in defensive efficiency...

*I'm refusing to call the 1st 4 "play in games" being played, the "First Round".  NO, I'm just not gonna do it.  THEY ARE PLAY IN GAMES! Enough with trying to get everyone a blue participation ribbon, already!  We get it!

The Florida Gators AKA 'The Chandler Parsons Project'
Next up we have the Florida Gators, a team that, I won't lie, I'm taking kind of a flier on.  They've got talent to beat the band, led by SEC POY Chandler Parsons, and Billy Donovan has done a great job coachin' 'em up, but something about their loss in the SEC Championship to Kentucky just sort of had me scratching my head.  Mostly because they refused to go inside and exploit their size, and just seemed content to take too many jump shots.  That being said, I'm taking the flier because I think that game served as a necessary wake up call, and a renewed commitment to working inside-out could be exactly what sends this team on a great March run.  Hey, all the other elements are there, and with what I agree is a percievedly "soft" road, I'd rather be with 'em than against 'em...

Rounding out the Sweet 16, we have Florida's opponent, Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars.  I struggled with this pick a lot, but ultimately went with the Cougs because I like their chances a Hell of a lot more than I like St. John's or Gonzaga's.  Which is to say, I really have no idea who's going to win that game.  So OK, this is more of a safety pick than anything else, but that doesn't mean it's without cause.  Fredette is one of the best scorer's in the country, and while his supporting cast may have been depleted by a case of "sexin' it up", that shouldn't prevent them from winning two games in Mormon friendly Denver, CO...

Hey, if you wanna take a risk, take either Gonzaga or SJU to win 2 games.  I just don't see enough reward in taking that road...  

Potential Sleeper: (9) Old Dominion - I know I lauded how complete the Pitt Panthers are, but if you've been listening, you also heard me criticize them for their play in close games, and head warning about flaming hot mid majors.  That's a bad match up for Pitt, should the two meet in the 2nd round, and a win there could easily turn the Monarchs into the belles of the proverbial ball.  Cinderella, if you will...


OK, Teds.  Now it;s time to get serious.  Who's takin' this thing home?!?  Weeeeeeee!

Let's find out...

THE FINAL FOUR
Eh, close enough...
(1) Duke vs (1) Ohio St.
(1) Kansas vs (2) Florida

The last 6 times the UNC and Duke have met for the ACC Tournament Championship, the winner has gone on to the Final Four.  Add that to the now likely return of PG Kyrie Irving, and that was enough for me to give the Dukies the nod.  And that's coming from someone who'd rather not see the Blue Devils in the Final Four, if that means anything to ya...

The one Region where I've notice my buddy Bilas and I differ, is the East.  I've got Ohio St. coming out of there, and he's got...(gulp)...Syracuse.  Uh oh.  I mean, I agree with him, based on talent alone, but I think too many analysts are overselling the ferociousness of this year's 2-3 zone.  It's a good match up for the Orange, should they land OSU in the Elite 8, but counting on them to get there, after watching them make so many turnovers and miss soooo many free throws, well that's just a leap of faith I wasn't willing to take.  Not this year.  The Buckeyes, another team I don't particularly care to root for, should be cutting down the nets in Newark...and then gettin' the F outta there before they get stabbed in the parking lot...

The Kansas Jayhawks will survive the SouthWest, but they're match up with Louisville served as the theoretical game I agonized over the most.  What a game that could potentially be, huh?  I mean, it'll probably be Richmond/UNLV, and I'll spend another year cursing out Bill Self, but a showdown between Kansas and the Cardinals at that point of the Tournament really has "game of the year" written all over it.  Eventually, I held my breath, and took Kansas.  They've screwed me in the past, but so have the Cardinals (predicted '09 champ), and seeing as Kansas has more talent, and has been more consistent, they get the nod...

Finally, my 'Florida Flier' has me now taking the Gators past my highly regarded Pitt Panthers, and on to a 3rd Final Four in the past 6 years.  A risk proposition, to be sure, but after seeing that Bilas agrees with my course of action, it's one that I'm feeling more and more confident about.  They're not the best team, but stylistically, I think they'll thrive.  They have a lot of beneficial math ups, not against inferior teams, but against teams that can't match their size and athleticism.  That, and the wake up call they received at the hand of the Wildcats in the SEC Championship, should be enough to light a fire under them, and get them to the promised land...

And here it is...

2011 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

(1) Kansas 73 (1) Duke 69

Yup, you got it.  After spending another year saying how I didn't think Kansas "had what it takes", I'm picking the Jayhawks to cut down the nets.  Hey, maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment, who knows.  Only time will prove that out.  I do know this.  I took what I believe to be the best team.  Maybe not "the best in the country" if all things were equal, but the team that has the best combination of skill, experience, and beneficial match ups on their potential road to glory.  Am I wrong?  Well I wouldn't completely dismiss the thought, but with the Zen like way I filled out my bracket, I'm a real big fan of my chances for success.  And hey, Bilas picked Kansas too, so I got that goin' for me, which is always nice...

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Kansas Jayhawks.  Your 2010-2011 NCAA Champions for Men's Basketball...

...or it'll be someone else.  Either way, it should be one Hell of a show...

Hope you enjoyed, my friends, and best of luck to you all...


Teddy Williams...
100...

#$>



*DISCLAIMER: Published picks are subject to "moments of clarity' between now and noon tomorrow, tonight's results, and are also just subject to my penchant for trickery and deception. Muahahaha

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