I have not moved from my couch for the past 120 hours. Good Lord, there were some great games this past week. I don’t have to run them down, you most likely saw them all; or at least the highlights. Now, the seeds are planted, games set, and questions arise. Who will play Cinderella? Who will survive? Is there a way that Gus Johnson can call every single game of the tournament? (Seriously, were you watching the Washington v. Arizona game? That man could make synchronized swimming exciting.) Some questions have answers, and some don’t. Have no fear though, I’m here to make your bracket predictions that much simpler, with upset picks, sleeper teams, and eventual champion. But first, the gripes:
How does Colorado get excluded, but teams like Georgia, USC and Penn State get in? Colorado beat Missouri and Texas, as well as Kansas State three times! Yes, their out of conference schedule wasn’t the toughest, but they more than held their own in what is probably the second-toughest conference in the country. Georgia’s and Penn State’s out of conference foes were nothing extraordinary either. Also, how does the Big Ten get seven teams? I know the afore-mentioned Penn State made a run in the Big Ten tourney, but that does not exclude the fact that they did not play a single team even close to making the tourney out of conference, and they only managed a 9-9 conference record. From what conference does the Selection Committee Chairman hail? Oh yeah, now I remember…
But no sense dwelling too much on what we can’t change. Get out your brackets, ’cause the Clausenator Crystal Ball has these insights just for you (all statistics courtesy teamrankings.com):
Team that will be toughest to predict
Purdue. They played beyond everyone’s expectations after they lost Robbie Hummel to an ACL injury for the second time in as many years; however, they have recently lost to less-than conference opponents Iowa and Michigan State. If they survive against upset-minded St. Peter’s, they will most likely have to play Georgetown. There is always one toss-up team every year that could either lose in the first round or make it to the Final Four, and Purdue is that team this year. They will get past St. Peter’s, but I think Georgetown will be too much for them.
Team that played well most of the year but will lose quickly
Texas. Rick Barnes – excluding one Final Four appearance in 2003 – has a horrendous record in the tournament, and I don’t think this is the year that tradition will be broken. Assuming they make it past Oakland, they will have to play either Memphis or Arizona, and both have the ability to beat Texas. Of Barnes’ 12 tournament appearances with Texas, he has lost in the second round or sooner seven times. Unfortunately, I see a similar story for this team.
Team that played poorly most of the year but will make noise
Michigan State. I don’t know what it is about Tom Izzo, but this happens a lot. I know I referenced them as a less-than opponent, but look at the history. They limp into the tournament with ugly losses on their resume – such as Iowa – and then play lights out in March. The potential shooting contest between Kalin Lucas and Florida’s Chandler Parsons will be fun to watch, but I think Izzo’s boys pull off the 10-2 upset in the second round.
First Round Upset Watch.
11 v. 6: Two games to watch out for. First Marquette v. Xavier. Many close calls – half of their losses were by five points or less – have gotten them tournament ready. They know how to hold on to win close ones as well, as evidenced by an overtime win against UConn, and I think they get past Xavier. Also, Missouri over Cincinnati. Missouri’s 40-minutes-of-hell defense and their ability to score a lot of points quickly will, I think, help them to get past Cincy.
12 v. 5: Every year a 12 beats a five, but it is tough to tell which one. This year, there will be two: first, Richmond over Vanderbilt. Vandy seems to be playing poorly at the wrong time, with three losses in their last five games, giving Richmond the edge, considering they have won seven in a row. Second, Utah State over Kansas State. Jacob Pullen is playing outside his mind right now, but tourney-snub Colorado was able to hold him to 6-19 shooting. Utah State should be able to do the same considering they rank 10th in the country in opponent’s three-point shooting percentage. And if Pullen has a bad night, the entire system collapses.
13 v. 4: Belmont over Wisconsin. Belmont averages 80 points a game while only allowing 62, and Wisconsin could only muster 33 points against Penn State; I see this as the biggest upset in the first round. All 14, 15 and 16 seeds will not pull off any upsets this year.
Second Round Upset Watch
10/7 v. 2: I have already mentioned that Michigan State will beat Florida, and my other upset pick is Washington over North Carolina. UNC has had the fastest rise in the rankings I can remember, and come in to the tourney red hot despite getting thrashed by Duke in the ACC title game. But Washington won their conference as well, and the immaturity of UNC will show in the ACC-Pac 10 battle, of which Washington could prevail.
8/9 v. 1: The one seeds are very strong this year, but if there is one match up to consider, it is Duke’s potential face-off with either Michigan or Tennessee. Both teams have the ability to hit the three, and Michigan’s defense gave Kansas fits in January. If Kyle Singler or Nolan Smith have a bad night against either team, brace for a potentially huge upset in the second round.
Everyone knows their alma-mater best considering they watch every one of their games. Kansas has the best big man duo in the country with the Morris twins, and are complemented well by outside-shooting threats in Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar. Mario Little has come alive off the bench, and clearly coach Bill Self has lit a fire under Tyshawn Taylor, as he is finally coming into his own. But faulty free-throw shooting and Self’s lack of confidence in freshman Josh Selby could be huge drawbacks when six wins in a row are required of them. However, in spite of these drawbacks, they are still my choice for…
Call me biased if you like, but Kansas has the experience and leadership to survive the games in which they don’t play well, and absolutely destroy the teams who are unfortunate enough to play the Jayhawks when everything goes right. Ohio State drew the bracket of death with North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky, and Duke has to – but won’t – survive a trip to Anaheim. Kansas will have to get through Pitt in the Final Four, but their depth at the big man position and outstanding defensive play from the guards will get them by Pitt, and streaking UConn in the championship game.
Think the Clausenator Crystal Ball is cloudy? Stir the pot in the comments section. Just remember: don’t think too much – it can only hurt the ball club – bet with your mind and not your heart, and make sure there is plenty of ice and dip.