Monday, March 16, 2009

Let the Madness Begin!

Long before there was a WAD, there was the annual email from me to all my buddies laying out my analysis of the NCAA Tournament. This started back in my first year of law school in ’02 and continued until the preview first hit the WAD in ’06. That being said, back in ’02, you had to look far and wide to find a bigger college basketball fan than me (no, I’m not talking about my weight!). I could spit out almost every major contributor on every major team at the drop of a hat. Hell, I even used to schlep up to Arthur Ave. to watch Fordham slug it out in the bottom half of the A-10 (the baked ziti and meatballs on Arthur Ave. may have also had something to do with it). In other words, I LOVED college basketball.

Over the past few years, however, a strange thing gradually happened. Specifically, I’ve become addicted to the NBA, and my following of college hoops has more than suffered as a result. I mean, there are only so many games you can watch, so many teams you can follow, and so many articles you can read. Why has my allegiance shifted to the NBA? Well, I have my theories, but I will save those for another day. This is the time of year where even the casual fan has to place all their focus on the college game, and to spend time talking about the negatives of the game unfairly takes away from the excitement at hand.

So, why did I just spend 100 words telling you that I don’t love college basketball as much as I once did? Simply put, it’s the world’s longest disclaimer. I love writing this column every year, and I hope you enjoy reading it, but if you take any of this advice, you do so at your own peril. In other words, don’t come looking for me to refund your money from your office pool when Gonzaga gets bounced in the first round.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s get to it. Just a quick reminder of how this works: I give you a handful of first round upsets, and then I predict/preview from the Sweet 16 on. Got it? Good. Let’s do it.

THE UPSETS:

As an annual reminder, a 10 over a 7 is NOT an upset!

1) #11 Dayton over #6 West Virginia - This jumps out for one reason: Huggy Bear and his Sopranoesque suits has coached 14 previous teams to the Dance. He has only advanced past the second round four times. Sure, he’s only lost in the first round twice, but he’s not scared to go home early. And, for the record, Dayton has won 26 games, and they go 9 deep. That’s impressive, I guess.

2) #13 Miss. St. over #4 Washington – Nate Robinson isn’t walking through that door! Brandon Roy isn’t walking through that door! And, thankfully for MSU, Eric Dampier isn’t walking through that door!

3) #12 Wisconsin over #5 FSU – I’ve been watching Bo Ryan and the Badgers make very talented and athletic teams look very ordinary for many years now. And, coincidently, I have been watching Leonard Hamilton make very talented and athletic teams at Miami and FSU look very ordinary for many years now.

4) #11 VCU over #6 UCLA - As I watched the selection show on CBS, I heard Seth Davis passionately argue that VCU would beat UCLA. He gets paid to do this, so he has to know what he’s talking about, right?

I was considering taking Temple as an 11 seed over Arizona St., and then I realized John Chaney retired back in ’06. I told you I’m off my game when it comes to college hoops!


THE SWEET SIXTEEN

1) Louisville over Wake- Rick Pitino is not losing to a team that lost to G. Tech. End of story.

2) Kansas over USC – I love Taj Gibson, but as a 10 seed, I think the Sweet 16 is as far as he can take the Trojans.

3) Purdue over UConn - For the better part of a decade, I have heard from good friends that know these types of things that Matt Painter was going to be a great head coach. He’s proving them right. Good job by Matt. On the flip side, we’ve known for about two decades that Jim Calhoun is a Hall of Fame coach. Unfortunately for Calhoun, however, his team just really seems to struggle scoring points down the stretch. I, of course, am basing this only on their two losses to Pitt and their epic 6 OT loss to Syracuse. But, given the fact that those were UConn’s three biggest games of the year, I’m declaring that a sufficient sample size. Plus, I just plunked $25 down on Purdue in an auction draft tonight, so I’m a little biased.

4) Memphis over Missouri - No need for a shot clock in this game. I honestly think this is going to be the most entertaining game of the tournament. Despite the fact that he murdered his team in the last two minutes of last year’s title game, I love Coach Cal, and I just can’t pick against him at this point unless he’s going up against Pitino (foreshadowing?). Plus, I plunked $100 down on the Tigers in the draft tonight, so not only am I biased, I’m invested.

5) Tennessee over Xavier - Let’s not talk about how Tennessee is going to win this game, let’s talk about the real story – how they will get here. I know they have underachieved, but I love Tennessee’s intensity and ability. I have ever since Bruce Pearl took over. Not to mention, every commentator I’ve heard talk about Pitt seems petrified that their best player, DeJuan Blair, is going to get in foul trouble. When a guy averages 16 points and 12 boards and all anybody can talk about is his foul trouble, that’s not what we would call confidence inspiring.

6) Nova over Texas – Yes, I think Texas beats Duke to get here. And no, I won’t believe in Duke until they win the National Title. (Disclaimer: I also bought the Longhorns in tonight’s draft). I’ve watched them play more than any other team this year (I even saw them in person), and the most impressed I’ve been is their loss to Carolina last weekend in Chapel Hill. When your most impressive game is a loss, that’s not a great sign. As for this match-up, I like Nova for two reasons: 1) Scottie Reynolds; and 2) Jay Wright. Reynolds is a tough and tested guard, and this tournament is always about guards! As for Wright, from the moment I saw him with my own eyes brilliantly coach Hofstra to the Holiday Classic Title in the Garden in ’99, I knew he was going to be a star. This guy is an elite college basketball coach.

7) Gonzaga over Carolina - Mark Few is not just an elite coach. He’s one of the very best coaches in the game today. He hasn’t had the success we’ve expected in March just yet, but one of these years, he is going to break through. Why not this year? The Zags have three guys shooting 42% or greater from behind the arc, and they shoot 40% as a team from behind the line. Sure, Carolina has more experience and more talent, and Roy Williams is also one of the best coaches alive, but, the three ball is the great equalizer. I know this pick seems ridiculous, but I’ve just got a feeling. Then again, I did eat 20 wings for dinner, so there could be another explanation for this feeling.

8) Oklahoma over Arizona St. - OU has the best player in the country, and that has to count for something, right? Granted, I am the biggest OU apologist in America other than Fite. What can I say? I’ve had very good times in Norman, Oklahoma! For the record, I warned you this wasn’t going to be expert analysis.

ELITE EIGHT

1) Louisville over Kansas - If Rick Pitino was coaching North Dakota State, I would pick North Dakota State to go to the Final Four.

2) Memphis over Purdue - $100 for Memphis doesn’t look so bad if they win this game. If they lose, you better hope you don’t owe me money because I will be calling.

3) Villanova over Tennessee - Did I really pick Tennessee to make the Elite Eight? I’m not even drinking, I promise.

4) Gonzaga over Oklahoma – My bromance with Mark Few encounters my love affair with Norman, OK. I’m not sure I can even watch this game. Will somebody just call me when it’s over?

FINAL FOUR

1) Louisville over Memphis - Pitino v. Calipari. This is the only game I think could rival Memphis v. Mizzou in entertainment value. I’ll make the lasagna and garlic bread. You bring the red wind, and we’ll all have a great time!

2) Nova over Gonzaga - With Wright and Few squaring off, this could be a "Slumdog Millionaire" like masterpiece. For the record, if these four coaches squared off in the Final Four, it would be the greatest collection of coaching talent in the Final Four since Coach K, Lute Olson, Gary Williams, and Tom Izzo locked horns back in ’01.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Louisville over Nova – All kidding aside, I watched Louisville take out that courageous Syracuse team last night. The pressure they applied to start the second half was the most devastating defense I’ve seen since Pitino’s ’96 Kentucky team. Before you go crazy, I’m not suggesting this team is as good as the ’96 Cats, which may be the greatest team of our lifetime. What I am saying is that the Cardinals can explode for a 20-0 run at any given moment. I just don’t think anybody else in this field has that capability.

Well, that’s that. The only thing left to do is watch the madness unfold and watch the taunting emails roll in as my predictions get blown all to Hell on Thursday and Friday. And, in case you were wondering, I promise you won’t have to read any NBA coverage over the next three weeks. From now until the first Monday in April, the WAD is exclusively a college basketball environment.