Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Madness Has Arrived!

Can Harrison Barnes lead North Carolina to their first final four since winning it all?

Every year around the middle of March, sports fan start to get symptoms of a very contagious fever. This fever is not the Bieber Fever thank god, but is March Madness Fever! This is the time America comes together and watches who will boom and bust in the tournament. March Madness is defined by #12 seeds upsetting #5 seeds, experienced teams cutting nets, and top notch coaches proving why they are the best. In this upcoming column, i will express my opinion on the top one seeds,  top three Cinderella's, key players, key injuries, best coaches, and a sneak peak at my bracket (that is not finalized)!

Let's get this started with the one seeds.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes come into the tournament as the overall top seed in this years tournament. The Buckeyes just beat Penn State in the finals of the Big Ten tournament this past weekend. The Buckeyes are led by Freshman sensation Jared Sullinger who is a freshman, but also have experienced guards in William Buford, David Lighty, and Jon "Threebler" Diebler. Also the Buckeyes have a beast on the blocks in Dallas Lauderdale to play alongside Sully. Ohio State is also coached by one of the best in Thad Matta who led Ohio State to the finals just a few years ago. The Buckeyes are many of America's locks to win their section of the bracket and I think they can definitely do it. The only thing holding back the Buckeyes is the schedule they face, and this is why they are not my pick to win it all. Ohio State is set to play Villanova/George Mason, if they win the first round. After that they are projected to play a very good and young Kentucky team, or a very experienced Big East team in West Virginia. If Ohio State dodges that they will then play North Carolina or Syracuse, who both are great teams not only in their conferences but in the whole nation. Also If all the one seeds were to make it to the final four, Ohio State would have to face off against a very very good team in the Duke Blue Devils.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers won the Big East regular season title this year but slipped in the Big East Tournament when they lost to UCONN. Still the Panthers obviously impressed the committee enough to get a one seed in one of the most unpredictable regions in years. The Panthers are a good team led by junior Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanabaker. The Panthers also have Gary McGhee down-low to grab rebounds. To complement the pretty solid rotation, Pittsburgh also has a great coach in Jamie Dixon. One negative i see in Pittsburgh is there lack of schedule. Don't jump to soon, because i know they play in the Big East, but yet they only played five ranked teams in conference during the regular season. Also they were not very good on the road this season, which is very important in the tournament. Now the key reason why Pittsburgh will not advance to the final four is their region. This region of the tournament includes teams like Florida, BYU, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Michigan State, UCLA, St. Johns, Gonzaga, and last year's runner up, Butler. Right there i just named nine other teams, ten including Pittsburgh, who can win this bracket (there are 16 teams total)!

Kansas: The Jayhawks had a very quiet 32-2 season that included a regular season and postseason Big 12 titles. Also the Jayhawks played part of their schedule without Josh Selby, a spectacular freshman guard who was forced to sit out do to infractions. Kansas' only two losses came from an emotional loss at Kansas State, and halfway through the season at home against Texas. Kansas' only weak point was their strength of schedule in a relatively weak Big 12 this year. They only played six ranked teams this whole season, one out of conference, and one in the conference tournament. Nonetheless The Jayhawks are led not only by Josh Selby, but by twin brothers Marcus and Markieff who dominate the low post. Marcus averages close to 17 points and seven rebounds per game while his twin averages close to 14 points and eight rebounds per game. Thomas Robinson and Tyrel Reed also contribute a lot to the team. Like the other top seeds, Kansas has a great coach in Bill Self, who led Kansas to a title three years ago against Memphis. I have Kansas representing the Southwest and Southeast side of the bracket in the finals because not only can they rebound, but they run a nice offense, and have a great coach to lead them through a panic.

Duke: I hate to say it, but Duke is my frontrunner to win the title again this year. The Blue Devils are just way too good. Duke goes eight men deep, each of them being able to start on most teams in the NCAA. These eight are Nolan Smith, Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Andre Dawkins, Kyle Singler, and yes he might be back by the first round, diaper dandy Kyrie Irving! Potentially, Duke is the same team they were last year but replace Scheyer with Seth Curry, and replace Zoubek with older and more matured Plumlee brothers. The key factor to Duke's success this season was not even Kyrie Irving, during the few games in he played this season. the key is Nolan Smith, who has become an elite college point guard after a few alright years at Duke. This year he has propelled himself to averaging 21 points five assists and four rebounds per game. Duke also has one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, Coach K, calling plays for them. Duke not only has a crazy good offense but have the defense to match it. Their only losses come this season are away at North Carolina, who they got double revenge on, Virginia Tech, and Florida State. Still, Duke is my team to beat.

Now for the Cinderellas

Gonzaga: Gonzaga usually is a solid college basketball team, but this year feels a bit out of place. Coming in as an 11 seed, the Bulldogs will be underdogs when they face off against St. Johns. I think Gonzaga can make a serious run in this region, not only because they themselves are good, but because this region is so unpredictable, and St. Johns has lost one of their best players to injury. Gonzaga also plays great perimeter defense and might be able to stop St. Johns outstanding shooting. Never doubt 'Zaga.

Utah State: Another team in the Southeast region of the tourny, is Utah State. Utah State is one of the most unique teams in the NCAA having not only a great fan section at games, but a great team. For a team representing the WAC, they are phenomenal. The Aggies finished the season at 30-3 and their only losses are at BYU, Georgetown, and Idaho. Tai Wesly is also a great player down low who might be able to take advantage of an undersized Kansas State team. Watch out for Utah State this year!

Butler: I realized, yes another team in the Southeast region but yes, they can pull it off again! Many teams can be "Cinderella's" like Missouri, Marquette, Florida State, and Tennessee, but historically those teams usually excel in college basketball. Anyways to Butler. Butler practically has the same team that sent them to the Finals last year, except they lost Gordon Heyward. To be honest, going into the tournament Heyward wasn't even the teams best player, or even second best. The good thing is Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. The two form a dynamic one to punch, and I seriously believe not only can they beat Old Dominion, but don't be shocked if they beat an overrated Pittsburgh team. Still, do not except this to happen, but just know it is possible.

Now for the top players and injuries.

My top three players to watch in this tournament are Nolan Smith, Jimmer Fredette, and Ben Hansbrough.

Smith: Smith has evolved in to one of the best point guards in the nation. He plays on a great Duke team, and i can easily see Nolan cutting down the nets again in early april. Nolan Smith plays great defense and contributes even more on the offensive end. He is explosive, emotional, and always fun to watch.

Fredette: It would be impossible not to have Air Jimmer on this list of who to watch for. Even with the dismissal of Brandon Davies, Jimmer can lead this undersized, underrated BYU team to the final four even. Like i said many times, BYU plays in the controversial Southeast region, and as long as they play it one game at a time, do not be surprised if Air Jimmer does it again. Last year we saw Jimmer lead BYU to it's first NCAA win since Danny Ainge ran the point, when BYU upset Florida in the first round.

Hansbrough: The younger brother of one the greatest college basketball players in this era is making a nice name for himself. Ben is showing great leadership on the mature Notre Dame team. Coach Mike Breen has turned Hansbrough into a phenomenal player, and if Ben is on, he can help lead his team to an upset over Kansas and even make a run for the title. Hansbrough is a very traditional player, who plays team first basketball, but can still take over a game. The thing Notre Dame doesn't have to worry about is even if Hansbrough is off, they can still win games.

As for my injuries, the top ones belong to Kyrie Irving, DJ Kennedy, and Chris Singleton.

Irving: As explained earlier, Irving is arguably the best player in the country and plays on the best team. Even without him Duke still has a chance to win it all, but the chances decrease a lot. Irving contributes a lot to the Blue Devils on both sides of the ball, and makes it much easier for Nolan Smith. He can dominate a game and when Duke's other seven players are off Irving can still lead them to a win, like he did against Butler early in the season

Kennedy: St. Johns rarely missed this season, but when they did DJ Kennedy was there to clean up the boards. St. Johns will miss Kennedy very much, and their status is in jeopardy after his season ending injury. Although St. Johns has great guards led by Dwight Hardy, they are undersized down low and that might hurt them in the tournament.

Singleton: Chris is by far the best player on the Florida State Seminoles, and if he is healthy he can help them pull an upset over Texas A&M. If the doesn't play the game will not even be close, that is how much he means to this team. Signs are pointing to Singleton playing which is not only good for the Seminoles, but for my bracket as well.

So i am curious to your thoughts on these points. Feel free to comment or email me about picks, opinions, injuries, or player watch. Even if it isn't NCAA related, I can talk sports all day.

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