March 15, 2010

Get ready for the Madness

by Dan Bilicki In: Basketball

Selection Sunday has come and gone and now we’re left with plenty of brackets to fill out over the next three days, before the clock strikes noon on Thursday and the games get under way. So how do I feel about looking at my bracket for the first time? Not that great actually; this is one of the first years that I’m not completely confident in picking a winner. This season has seen some great players, some great teams and a lot of swings up and down the rankings.

Where to begin? How about at the very top, where Kansas resides as the number one number one seed. And their reward for being the supposed best team in the nation? The toughest region that was drawn up. They’ll have to survive a battle royale with Ohio State, Georgetown, Maryland and Michigan State, an infinitely harder task than what Duke was drawn into.

I’ve got to say, this year’s Duke team has a good chance of not choking like they have in recent years. Jon Scheyer may seem like you typically hate-able Duke white-boy, but he has some real game. Brian Zoubek, their 7-foot-plus centre, is a dominating force that’s destined to be drafted about 10 picks too high when he declares for the NBA draft. Kyle Singler and Miles Plumlee can be threats too. Plus, they’ve always got Coach K behind the bench to lead them. Put that all together and combine it with a weak region and the Blue Devils should make a nice run.

That John Wall kid is crazy good. In case you didn’t catch his off-balance three pointer to win it for Kentucky in overtime, well, let’s just say that it will be a highlight of the year candidate. Wall isn’t the only good thing going for Kentucky either, with Bledsoe and Demarcus Cousins in tow, this team has the all around game to go deep, if not win it all. The only weakness might be the same that coach Calipari had with Memphis: They’re awful at the charity stripe. Look at Cousins’ 45% free throw shooting and you have to wonder if he’s a liability to be on the floor late in games. This could hurt the Wildcats in the long run.

Ohio State’s Evan Turner is ridiculously good, as he proved in helping Ohio State to the conference title. But I have to worry about Ohio’s chances if Turner has an off game. Sure, he’s going to be the second pick in the draft behind Wall, but that doesn’t mean he can carry his team every single game. Putting up at least 31 in each of his past two games is impressive, but can he do that six games in a row against increasingly tougher opponents and stay out of foul trouble? Well, if he can, maybe he can even unseat Wall as the No. 1 pick.

So where were the traditional powers this year? With one-and-done players often being your team leaders, it’s remarkably hard to contend year after year. Teams like North Carolina didn’t pull in the best recruiting class and suffered by being the No. 4 seed in the NIT tourney this year. Then, you can look out west and see that both UCLA and USC aren’t at the big dance. In fact, the Pac-10 champion, Washington, is an 11 seed and the only other team from the conference is Cal. As the Sports Guy tweeted, “USC really needs to start cheating again.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Do we really need the play-in game? 64 vs. 65 in a game to win the right to lose to the best team in the nation a few days later? It doesn’t get ratings and it doesn’t affect your bracket in the slightest. Why keep up this charade?

Finally, as a parting thought, when you do get around to picking your champion, don’t forget this fact: In the past 25 years, 68% of tournament winners have had blue in their jerseys.

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