Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NCAA Tournament Bracket Musings: Worthless Opinion Edition

To those who prefer fevered anarchist rantings over fevered sports rantings, my apologies. Without further ado, my first ever Haphazardly Organized NCAA Tournament Bracket Musings:

Best First Round Matchup: Probably Arizona vs Wisconsin, Minneapolis Region. Runner-up: Alabama vs Marquette (Oakland Region) is an intriguing matchup.

First Round Upset Potential: Every year I pick one or two 11s over a 6 and it seems to be a sucker bet. I'm still taking UW-Milwaukee over Oklahoma (that's for you, Wayne) but I'm backing off my initial San Diego St. over Indiana pick. My bracket this year looks very conservative; I'm not picking nearly as many first round upsets as years past. This decision will probably look fantastically stupid by Friday morning. Anyway, bracket glory requires successfully picking a 12 seed over a 5, and Utah State over Washington seems the fashionable choice. But I also think Syracuse is vulnerable against Texas A&M; the Orange had a magical run through the Big East championship but teams sometimes leave their best efforts back in the conference tourneys. I can see a post-Big East title hangover setting in for the Orange. Syracuse advances if Gerry McNamara continues his stellar play. I'm going to pick them in the first round but it could be closer than many people think.

Best Potential Second Round Matchup: (Tie) 3-North Carolina vs. 6-Michigan State (Washington D.C.); 5-Pitt vs 4-Kansas (Oakland).

The First #1 Seed Out Will Be: (Tie) I have Memphis bowing out to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen; Villanova falling just short against BC also in the Sweet Sixteen. If Villanova had a different draw (say, Duke's), I'd not hesitate to put them in the Final Four.

The First #2 Seed Out Will Be: Ohio State in the second round against Georgetown. (When Georgetown loses to Northern Iowa in the first round, I will ritualistically immolate my bracket and take down this post.)

My Final Four: UConn, Duke, BC, and Kansas.

National Champion: UConn over Duke (what, you thought I'd pick against my Huskies???)

A Couple More Random Thoughts:

  1. I'm a Big East fan but their teams fuck up my brackets every single year. I'm constantly victimized by the "exposure effect." Pitt always falls short of where I think they can be (I finally wised up and picked them to lose to Pacific last year) but you pick against them at your own risk. I can see them knocking off Kansas even though I picked Kansas to go to the Final Four. Anyway, every year I overestimate Big East teams and my bracket ends up in tatters by the end of the tournament's first weekend. Despite boasting eight tournament teams (and it should be nine but Cincy got hosed) and the undisputed Best Conference belt, I'm not going crazy with Big East teams this time. I have just Georgetown, UConn, and Villanova in my Sweet Sixteen. So naturally, we'll probably see a repeat of 1985 (three Big East teams in the Final Four). I hate my bracket already.
  2. The Pac-10, too, is completely unpredictable for me. I will freely admit to East Coast Bias, the bete noire of the Left Coast sports fan. UCLA is another one of those teams that fucks up my bracket annually. They tend to go the opposite of wherever I have them, so I apologize in advance to any UCLA fans who inadvertently stumbled here: I have the Bruins going to the Elite Eight this time, which means they're guaranteed to lose in the second round against the winner of Marquette-Alabama. Sorry.

My Team is the Consensus Pick for National Champion and I'm...Cautiously Optimistic? (Or, "I'm Ron Burgundy...?")

The national media is way too bullish on UConn's title chances. Maybe it's the salty, pessimistic New Englander in me, but I'm less sanguine about their chances. I have high hopes but it's clear this team is talented and flawed. Most talent in the country? I think so. Star players? Yep. Depth? Loads. Great coaching? Calhoun's a Hall of Famer and two-time national champion. So what's the problem? In no particular order: focus, intensity, and turnovers. They have all the traits of a national champion (experience, depth, great defense and rebounding, etc.) but too often their heads are up their asses for long periods. You can get away with that crap against South Florida in February but not against Illinois in March. UConn's seniors make too many freshman mistakes. I hold my breath every time Denham Brown dribbles the ball in the open court, begging for him not to lose control, get stripped, or get trapped. The next time Rashad Anderson fights through a screen to defend a shooter will be the first time. Plus, when Rash is cold, he's likely to shoot them right out of the game.

And on and on. How does a team with Marcus Williams running the point turn the ball over so damn much? They're just careless with the rock and it drives me batshit -- ill-conceived interior passes, home-run lobs that get deflected, not coming back to the ball to help a teammate being trapped or doubled, etc. When the Huskies play smart basketball, they can overwhelm even a talented opponent. But the way to beat them is to attack. This team should shred the press apart but they are way too tentative. Teams have some success attacking UConn's shotblockers on the interior; sure they'll get a few swatted, but the Huskies will go for head fakes, and their weakside help can lead to easy offensive rebounds and put-backs. Boone and Armstrong will also get into occasional foul trouble.

Without Boone and Armstrong in the lineup together, it's much harder for the team to establish its inside play, which is predicated on Williams spreading the floor, distributing to the big men, and getting easy baskets or kickouts for open jumpers from Brown or Anderson. That's it though; that's the offense. When the team struggles to establish its game in the paint and the jumpers aren't falling for the wing players, the half-court offense can wilt. Rudy Gay should be the guy to step up and lead the team with clutch baskets during these stretches but usually he disappears instead. Williams then takes it upon himself to make something happen, which he can do at times with dribble penetration and pull up floaters, but teams eventually stymie him and then the offense really goes into a funk.

I'm still picking UConn to win the national title because of their superior talent and myriad matchup problems for most teams. Nobody can match them on the interior. Their defense, rebounding, and shotblocking are unparalleled. Boone, Brown, Anderson, and Armstrong have championship experience. Calhoun is a master motivator. When UConn fires on all cylinders, like they did against Syracuse in the regular season (twice), the Villanova game at home, and the Seton Hall game, they're scary good.

The question is whether they can put it together for 6 consecutive tournament games -- I'm betting they can, because their best effort still outstrips the best anyone else can muster. But I'm worried about the unanimity with which the national experts have anointed UConn champion -- have all these experts watched as many UConn games as I have? The Huskies are plenty talented but will they be focused, smart, hungry, and tough enough?


Anonymous said...

The Big Ten Stinks and s overarated.

J Ballot said...


Though you likely won't return to see this reply, the evidence of your claim is compelling. If we let NCAA tournament performance be our gauge:

*Conference tourney champ Iowa: Ousted in the first round by #14 seed Northwestern St. (who???)

*Indiana: Survived SD St. and then lost by 10 to Gonzaga

*Illinois: Beat Air Force, whom many pundits believed didn't even belong in the Big Dance; Round 2, rallied from a first half deficit, blew a second half lead, ultimately lost by 3 to Washington

*Michigan St.: One and done vs. unheralded #11 seed George Mason

*Wisconsin: Blown out of the gym by Arizona, 94-79

*Ohio St: Still alive but facing a tough test vs. Georgetown tomorrow. I picked Georgetown, and if the Big Ten's performance so far is any indication, the Buckeyes could well join Tennessee as early oustees as #2 seeds

Without question Big Ten teams soiled themselves in this year's tourney. Does this mean the conference stinks and was overrated? Probably, though the sample size is small. I'm inclined to agree with you but that's because I'm biased and dislike Big Ten teams anyway.

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