Well the Gophers are back in the NCAA Tournament and I gotta say despite everything else it feels damn good. I'm also pretty pleased with the 11 seed, because it keeps the Gophers away from the #1s and #2s as long as possible, although a possible second round match-up with Florida would probably be every bit the bloodbath you'd see against a #1 or #2. I'll be back with a preview of UCLA on Wednesday night (and then will go radio silent (except twitter) until the next week as we take our annual trip to Chicago to watch all the games from the Dayton Bar with Bogart.) I've also been informed that the Dayton Bar is also an Ole Miss bar so I'm looking forward to watching them hopefully beat the Badgers.
Anyway, here are the toughest things I'm struggling with as a fill out my bracket:
1) Florida or Georgetown? There were three teams I wanted to put in the final four for sure: Louisville, Florida, or Georgetown. Unfortunately, now I can't do that and need to make a choice between the Gators and Hoyas since they'd play in the Sweet 16 if everything holds. I love Florida because they have so many weapons and can score inside or out, and they compliment that with great defense. Georgetown is also an amazing defensive team, and they have Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter who is good enough to carry that offense on his back a la John Wallace or Kemba Walker. I hate that I have to choose, but I'm going with the Gators.
2) What do do with Wisconsin. I hate this. I was all set to have both Wisconsin (because I hate them) and Kansas State (because they, and Bruce Weber, suck) to lose in the first round, but it all broke wrong. Wisconsin gets an Ole Miss team who I don't think can compete with them, and Kansas State gets the play-in winner of LaSalle and Boise State, neither of whom is very good at all. I almost have to take K-State and Wisconsin to both win their first round match-up, and if that happens there's no way K-State can beat the Badgers because Ryan can coach circles around Weber and the Wildcats are perfectly undisciplined enough to fall right into Wisconsin's traps. So I have Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. Feels really wrong and icky and dirty, but since they're always the luckiest team in America you can't rule it out. I'm still rooting against them though. If you don't it means you hate America.
3) Who comes out of the West? In every other region it's come down to one or two difficult decisions between teams I think are good enough to make the Final Four, while in the West I'm decided who is least flawed among the contenders. Gonzaga and New Mexico are good teams no doubt, but neither has been tested as often or as consistently. Both have some good non-conference wins of course but Gonzaga ran through a pretty crappy conference and although New Mexico played in a good MWC I just don't know if I'm buying it. That leaves Ohio State, about whom there are no questions regarding having been tested, but unless their offense continues to be about more than DeShaun Thomas they're going to struggle. If anything wacky happens I'm betting it's in this region, because there are some really weak teams for their seed (Arizona, K-State, Wisco, etc.). Right now I'm going to buy the Buckeyes. The team's offense is coming together with Thomas finding plenty of help, the defense is top-notch as usual, and the coaching is solid.
4) Can Louisville Survive? I think the Cardinals are the best team in the NCAA and my pick to win it all, but holy hell is the Midwest Region a bitch. I consider Oklahoma State, St. Louis, and Michigan State as dark horse Final Four candidates and sure enough, they're all here. The only real saving grace is that Duke is the #2 here and Duke sucks so at least they catch a break there. Even some of the really high seeds (#12 Oregon, #14 Valparaiso) are pretty dangerous. Whoever gets out of this region is going to have to have done some seriously good work. Luckily Louisville hits my check list - come in on a high note (not necessarily a conference tournament victory but just playing well), good guards who can make free throws, great defense, and a team who can shoot without being dependent on the 3. So yeah, despite the tough region Louisville is my champ.
5) Who upsets Kansas? I know Kansas has kind of shed that choker label, what with the two Final Fours since 2008 and all, but there's no way this version of Kansas is Final Four bound so the question becomes where do they get bounced? I'm betting they don't get out of the first weekend with North Carolina knocking them out as one of the toughest 8 seeds I can remember. I know Carolina has been talked about as being "down" this year and maybe they are with 10 losses, but do you realize their worst loss this year was to Texas? And after that their worst loss was to Butler? The rest are 3 losses to Miami, 2 to Duke, and one each to Indiana, Virginia, and NC State which means the Heels don't have a single loss to a team outside of kenpom's top 100 teams. They're probably a little too perimeter dependent to make a significant run, but they should dispatch Villanova with ease and then in a one-time game against Kansas? It could happen, kids, it could happen.
6) How good is Miami? That's an important question, because I don't believe in Indiana and I don't believe in Marquette, which means it's either Miami or Syracuse coming out of the East for me. I do expect Syracuse to beat the Hoosiers and face the Canes with a Final Four berth on the line, so it becomes a matter if I think Miami is good enough to handle the Cuse. As it turns out, I think they are. They're experienced enough to not get rattled and they have the guard play needed to break down the Orange's zone with four guys who are lights out from three, and they play excellent defense, rebound well, and come in off an ACC Tournament Championship. Their free throw shooting is a bit suspect, but otherwise Miami is another team who looks really, really good and I have them in my Final Four.
That's it for now, back later with a Gophers/UCLA preview.