Friday, March 21, 2008

March Tournament Opens Without the Madness

March 21, 2008
By Anthony Tripicchio

The NCAA Tournament tipped off yesterday, sans the drama we are accustomed to. Sure, Belmont gave Duke a run for their money and Michael Beasley’s dominant performance led Kansas St. to a minor upset over a sixth seeded USC, but the chalk ruled almost everywhere else.

Most of you should have avoided tearing up your brackets on day one. That being said, there is still time for me to document my picks for the captivating two and a half-week tourney, albeit a day late. This is how Trip’s bracket shapes out.

Final Four Teams:
East Region: Louisville

Rick Pitino has a PHD in Madness, and this Cardinal team certainly has the potential to get to a Final Four. Louisville has a balanced attack with an inside scorer in David Padgett and a nice mix of perimeter players to complement the big man. The East could easily be the most difficult region with UNC, Tennessee, and Notre Dame, all potential Final Four teams. Despite UNC’s homecourt-advantage through the regional final, I still believe Louisville’s press can create problems for UNC as we saw Virginia Tech and Clemson present them with in the ACC Tournament. Ty Lawson still might not be 100 percent healthy, and UNC will need him to be if they tangle with Louisville’s long and high-pressure defense in the Elite Eight.
Midwest Region: Kansas

Although it can be detrimental to a team to be devoid of a clear first option, you won’t find many teams around the country weeping for Kansas. Loaded with artillery, coach Bill Self doesn’t lose much sleep over that "dilemma" with players like Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, and Darnell Jackson leading the brigade. This is one of the deeper teams in the tournament and all three of their losses came within the Big 12. The earliest Kansas can see a conference foe is the Elite Eight, where Kansas St. (one of their losses in the regular season) would be waiting for them if they are, indeed, 2008’s Cinderella.
South Region: Texas

Let’s face it: the Big 12 has two of the best teams in the nation. Texas happens to be one of them and the selection committee rewarded them with regional games in Houston and a Final Four in San Antonio. Memphis’ horrendous foul shooting leaves me with little confidence in their ability to win tight tournament games and, while I feel Pittsburgh is a very live pick (I have them in the Elite Eight), I can’t see them beating Texas in what will be a virtual home game for the Longhorns.
West Region: UCLA

Even though I would Love (wow, you see what I did there? Working Love into the blurb about UCLA whose star player is named Kevin Love. Where is my Knick beat reporter job?) to take another team out of this region, I do not have the heart to do it. Other people may say it is not a lack of heart, but a lack of something else. Whatever the case may be, this region is by far the weakest and as Duke demonstrated last night, there is no threat to the Bruins until the Final Four.
Final: Texas over Kansas

The championship game will be the third encounter between the Longhorns and Jayhawks this season, and will break the stalemate they reached in the first two. Texas won in the first meeting in February while Kansas took the more meaningful one, winning the Big 12 Championship. The teams are evenly matched, but the game’s setting at the Alamo will be the difference for the last team standing at the Big Dance.
Potential Sleeper Teams:

Davidson. Stephen Curry shoots just like his father and that is a tremendous weapon, especially in the college game. We have seen on numerous occasions that the NCAA Tournament is about guard play, and Curry is as good a marksman as you will find in the country. He leads the team in scoring at 25 per game while shooting a blistering 44 percent from three point land. Throw in the fact that the team has won 22 games in a row and you may just have something there. Wait a minute. Didn’t a basketball team from Texas just rattle off an insane winning streak rivaling that one? Is there an eerie correlation between Davidson, the Final Four’s location, and my championship pick? I think there is.
In all seriousness, Davidson has the potential to beat Georgetown and advance to the Sweet Sixteen thanks to the Hoyas inconsistent perimeter offense. If Jonathan Wallace struggles, Curry could send Georgetown packing a lot earlier than people think. A trip to the Final Four is exceedingly unlikely, but Davidson can definitely make noise and win a few games.

Siena. Now this is a thirteen seed that can win its first round game, and since the spread opened at seven points in the Vanderbilt game, it is noteworthy. While Vandy is not an ideal matchup for the Saints of the MAAC, their athletic and quick guards will pose problems for the Commodores who will see a variety of defenses all day. Siena is an experienced team and they will not be intimidated. Center AJ Ogilvy will be the biggest issue for Siena to deal with as his size could overwhelm them inside. If they can limit his touches, the Saints can keep marching into the second round.