Happy St. Patty’s Day to everyone out there! I figured today would be the perfect day to post my first assessment of this year’s Tournament field, and for three reasons: (1) because people will be drunk enough to actually read what I am about to write, (2) because when I don’t get enough comments I can blame it on you people being too drunk to type, and (3) because if any of what you’re about to read turns out to be completely wrong, I can blame it on myself being drunk. Which I’m not, or am I…
Here are a few things to look for over the next few days of March Madness to help you avoid losing your pool to your friend’s mom:
1. There will be a 12 vs. 13 second-round matchup
I’m not exactly sure which region it’s going to come from, but mark my words, it will happen somewhere. Unfortunately, the laws of probability make it highly unlikely that this matchup will happen in more than one region, but the East, South and Midwest brackets all present potential opportunities.
Sorry New Mexico State fans, if you even exist. I know it may seem tempting to ride your team’s recent success, but the fact is Michigan State is not going to lose in the first round. No way, no how. Now if I had to bet on the most likely region for the 12 vs. 13 matchup, I’d probably have go with the West. Don’t get me wrong, Siena vs. Utah State or Cornell vs. Wofford could both happen as well, but I like the West’s chances the best. While we know all about UTEP and it seems like they’re a popular pick in many people’s brackets, the team that many people are overlooking is Murray State. Forget that they were the first Division 1 team to win 30 games this season. The two real factors that make this team difficult to beat are its balance and defense. The Racers don’t have an Aubrey Coleman or a James Anderson-type player who they know is going to drop 20-25 points because those 20-25 points can come from any one of five or six guys. It’s a pick-your-poison situation with this team, as they have five players who averaged double digits in points and seven players who have scored 16 points or more in a game this season. Couple that with a sub-40% field goal percentage defense, and Vandy could be on one of the first flights out of San Jose.
2. One No. 1 seed will go down
In the first weekend? What? No way. I’ll give you a little hint, again it’s not going to come from the Midwest region and I doubt it will come from the West. Oh yeah! How many people are steaming from the ears right now and are about to skip the rest of this column and start furiously typing in the comments section about how stupid I am? Well, save it. Duke or Kentucky will lose before the weekend is over.
“Kentucky? Have you lost your mind? Have you seen them play this year? You’re such a hater!” Listen, this team is really, really, really, good and if they do lose it will be a huge disappointment, but let’s be honest: Texas in the second round is probably the last thing the Wildcats wanted to see. In fact, I think it’s safe to say Texas is the last team any top seed wanted to see in the second round. I know all about the face-plant the Longhorns have taken over the past two months but we’d all be stupid to ignore the pure talent that this team is filled with. And if you think for one second that Damion James is incapable of carrying his team to the biggest upset of the opening weekend then you’ve got another thing coming. All I’m saying is don’t sleep on the Longhorns.
Now for the good stuff, the beloved Dukies. My favorite part of March Madness is listening to all the Duke fans talk about how “This is the year,” “This is the best team since ’01,” blah, blah, blah. Face it, they’re not that good. The crickets are going to be making the most noise in Durham this season. “But they have the easiest bracket!” Yeah, you’re probably right. You know as well as I do, though, that they’ll find a way to blow it. Just don’t come crying to me when that upset comes in the form of a Jerome Randle “How do we stop this guy?” shocker or a Samardo Samuels “man amongst boys” beating. It’s real, Duke fans. You drew one of the short straws in the second round and you better be ready!
3. Xavier will be in the Sweet 16 for the third straight year
Point-blank, this team just finds a way to win in the tournament. Was Sean Miller a big reason for the team’s success? Possibly. It’s probably the reason he landed the gig at Arizona, but let’s not take anything away from the players. In the past few years they’ve had great players in Derrick Brown, B.J. Raymond, Drew Lavender and Josh Duncan, but none of these guys were as explosive as Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford. The guy who’s most known for the Dunkgate scandal has quietly been putting together a monster year in the A-10 and will be the major reason why Xavier will be moving along to another Sweet 16. Most people will point to the fact that with the exception of Florida and Cincinnati, the Musketeers have lost all of their big non-conference games this season, but I’m still pretty convinced that thanks to a favorable draw they’ll be just fine. With Minnesota in the first round and a beatable Pitt team who traditionally can’t find their way out of a paper bag in the tournament, I think they’re in pretty good shape. I know Minnesota is another popular pick, but truthfully I don’t see Minnesota being that much of a concern for this team in the first round. I think you’ve got one of those classic “Give it all we have and waste all of our energy trying to win the conference tournament” scenarios with the Gophers. I mean, it’s pretty apparent that they may have already used up all their juice with that thrashing at the hands of Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. Talk about a way to make people forget about a huge win over Purdue. Gophers and Panthers go down. The Musketeers move on!
4. People will feel the wrath of the Big East
You knew I had to throw it in there. What would a column by me be without a declaration of war for anyone who is not a fan of the country’s best conference? Seriously though, what is it going to take for people to stop talking about any other conference as being even remotely close in comparison? Do we have to put all eight of our teams into the Sweet 16? Is that going to teach all of you? Granted, I don’t see this happening but we WILL have the most teams left after this first weekend comes to a close. The Big 12: I’ll give you three or four. Big Ten: I’ll give you two. A-10: I’ll give you two also. The ACC: You may have none! Not kidding around. I’m sick and tired of all these comparisons. It’s not even close. I’m happy that fans are passionate about their teams and their conferences, but don’t ignore greatness when you see it, embrace it. It is what it is and there’s no way else to explain it. The Big East is the best and the rest are, well, the rest. Look for monster wins from ‘Nova, West Virginia and ‘Cuse this weekend and look for Georgetown and Marquette to move along fairly easily. Sprinkle in a few wins for Louisville and Notre Dame and a turnaround of past tournament letdowns for Pitt and maybe, just maybe, people will come to their senses. Nothing would make me happier but the fact is, even if this does happen, the haters will be back talking about “You got lucky” and “Wait ’til next year.” Two words: Embrace it!