NCAA Tournament Preview: The Midwest Region

The Committee did a pretty fantastic job all the way around, this year.  And, one of the most striking successes of this bracket is the balance that each region has.  The Midwest is no exception.  They have a UNC team that clearly has #1 talent, but hasn’t been quite as good as many thought.  Kansas is a strong #2, even though, on paper, they may not have seemed it early in the year.  Georgetown, while vulnerable, is a deserved #3.  And, Michigan/Temple at 4/5 is pretty tough.  And, yet, I still can’t say for sure that whether this region is stronger or weaker than any of the other three.  Well done, Committee, well done.

North Carolina’s PodFri/Sun in Greensboro, NC

North Carolina should be one of the best college teams in a decade.  But, they aren’t; and there is nothing to say that they will become so in the next three weeks.  It was telling last week, when I had a lot riding on the Heels to beat Florida State in the ACC Championship.  You really learn about a team when you watch their game, really needing them to win.  I had no faith that they would make enough plays on either end of the floor.  They struggle to guard people, particularly on the perimeter, and have a gaping hole in the middle without Henson.  And, on the offensive end, when is Harrison Barnes going to show us why he was dubbed the “next Kobe?”  He’s just not that good.  I still might pick the Heels to win the whole thing, but that will only be because I’m neurotically stubborn.  How about this, though, I think they will definitely beat either Pat Knight’s Lamar team or Vermont on Friday.

All the talk about Doug McDermott and the Creighton Blue Jays may have hid the dirty little secret about Creighton – THEY DON’T PLAY ANY DEFENSE.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all things MVC, but this team really doesn’t guard anybody, and that almost completely precludes them from real success in this tournament, no matter how good McDermott is.  I actually really like Anthony Grant’s Alabama team.  They have top-level talent in guys like Jamychal Green and Tony Mitchell.  They also have some really solid secondary players like Trevor Relaford (or is it Travis – one of them is on Kansas and one on ‘Bama) and Andrew Steele.  And, the best part about them is that they buy into what Grant is selling – defense, defense, defense.  I think that this team could give the college hoops world a shock this weekend.

And, I’m not talking about shocking the world by beating Creighton.  I really think that Tar Heel fans should be Doug McDermott fans on Friday because this ‘Bama team can beat them.  Creighton cannot – they just don’t play enough (any) defense.

  1. North Carolina – 63.7%
  2. Alabama – 27%
  3. Creighton – 9%
  4. Vermont – 0.2%
  5. Lamar – 0.1%

Michigan’s Pod – Fri/Sun in Nashville, TN

Jon Bielein is a phenomenal coach, and he has rejuvenated this Michigan basketball program.  They tied with Michigan St. and Ohio St. for the Big Ten title, which is nothing to sneeze at.  But, are we convinced that this team really has what it takes to make a run here?  I’m not.  In fact, I think that Ohio, led by the great D.J. Cooper, has a real shot at an upset here.  Either way, I’m not sure that Michigan is quite there…yet.

The team that is there – or better be after so many near-misses – is the Temple Owls.  There is no secret as to what team I root for, but I have proven time and again that I am pretty objective when it comes to the Owls.  I was terrified of Cornell; I didn’t think they had a shot against San Diego St. last year; and, I acknowledged that Michigan St. was probably too much to ask for, as far as an upset pick three years ago.  But, this year is different.  This year, the team seems more complete and more consistent.  They don’t rely on one player, and they can both score and defend inside and outside.  Oh, and it is definitely strange to not know their opponent yet.  I think Cal is the better team and should take care of South Florida tonight, I am actually hoping that they do because I think the slowdown, physical style of USF is a nightmare for anyone in a one-game setting.  Then again, if this Temple team is as good as we think it is, they should be able to win a game at either speed.

And, if there is any leftover resentment from the since-vacated Michigan Final Four run in 1993 that happened to go through the Temple Owls in the Elite Eight, maybe this year will be the chance to bury those demons…ya know, if Michigan gets there.  Then again, I do think the Wolverines actually do matchup well with the Owls, so we Owls fans will be rooting for the Bobcats hard on Friday night.

  1. Temple – 34%
  2. Michigan – 31%
  3. California – 13%
  4. Ohio – 12%
  5. South Florida – 10%

Georgetown’s Pod – Fri/Sat in Columbus, OH

Georgetown has been really good this year – at least one year ahead of schedule.  Belmont has been really good this year – again – right on schedule.  This Belmont team is, dare I say, great.  They have been playing together for four years.  They are unselfish and balanced.  They are experienced, confident, and talented.  They can shoot the lights out, but don’t mind mixing it up or driving to the rack.  I am not going to say that they the favorites here against a really solid G’town team, but this is not IN ANY WAY your typical 3/14 matchup.  The Hoyas got a bit of a raw deal here, if you believe they were 3-seed worthy (which I do, actually).  This is a very live upset pick here – more than any 3/14 I can remember.

And, just to blow this pod up completely, I actually do think that N.C. State, the 11-seed, should be favored to beat #6 San Diego St. on Friday.  Not only have the Aztecs been struggling, but they rely on Jamaal Franklin a little too much, and N.C. State has a slew of athletes to throw at him.  C.J. Leslie is one of those guys that you don’t want to count on in ho-hum games on the road on a Wednesday night in January, but when the lights are on, I’ll take him.  Oh, and by the way, this game is scheduled for 9:40 am, San Diego time.

So, with both games in the first round in total flux, who can possibly tell what we have in store for us on Sunday.  Either way, it should be awfully interesting, and I think I’m going with an 11-seed to be favored to win this pod because I think they should get by SD State and certainly can beat G’town (or Belmont).

  1. N.C. State – 32%
  2. Georgetown – 29%
  3. Belmont – 22%
  4. San Diego St. – 17%

Kansas’s Pod – Fri/Sun in Omaha, NE

How good is Bill Self?  Very good.  This Kansas team was not supposed to win their 8th consecutive Big XII title (an incredible streak in any conference, let alone one of the best in the country), and yet they did.  I know that Thomas Robinson went from “good” to “best in the country” and Jeff Withey went from “stiff” to “very good,” but still, to think that this team, this year, would be a #2-seed is remarkable.  Even Ty Taylor seems to have bought in, which could seal Self’s COY honors in and of itself.  But, even with a 2-seed, they were not done any favors in the first round.  While Robinson might be the best player in the country, Detroit‘s Ray McCallum Jr. might be the second-best player in this game.  And, the Titans are rolling.  Despite a slow start, they won the Horizon tournament, despite the big disadvantage of the 3-seed, and they are playing with a ton of confidence – even talking some trash.  While they are probably deserving of their 15-seed (and, therefore, not warranted to talk any trash to Kansas), they are dangerous.  I would not have liked my draw, if I were a Kansas fan.

St. Mary’s has officially become their own program now that they beat Gonzaga for the regular season outright title and then took them down in the WCC championship game.  (Ignore the fact that they both got 7-seeds…)  Now, they get a shot to grab another tournament victory for a program that has arrived.  But, they have a really tough first test in Purdue.  The Boilermakers are battle-tested through a brutal Big Ten and, even though they lost a pair of NBA draft picks, they did add a star in Robbie Hummel back to the mix.  This game is one of the better first round matchups, and it seems like a total toss up to me.

While Kansas got, easily, the toughest 15-seed, they probably got aligned with the 7/10 duo that presents the least danger in the second round.  I love Matthew Dellavadova and the St. Mary’s Gaels, but they don’t have anyone who can possibly matchup with Robinson or Withey inside.  And, while you’d be a heartless bastard not to root for Hummel to have some sort of success, this Purdue team is just not good enough to be considered a real threat to the Jayhawks.  I would say that Purdue presents a slightly tougher matchup than St. Mary’s, but not appreciably, and the Jayhawks should still be playing next week…then again, we’ve heard that before.

  1. Kansas – 61%
  2. Purdue – 17%
  3. St. Mary’s – 15%
  4. Detroit – 7%

NCAA Tournament Preview – East Region

Well, talk about throwing a wrench in the works.  The #1-seed in the East just lost their most important player for the tournament.  This region is, all of a sudden, the definition of “wide open.”

Syracuses’s Pod – Thu/Sat in Pittsburgh, PA

Fab Melo isn’t the best player on Syracuse, but he is, without question, the most important.  What is the biggest weakness for the ‘Cuse?  Rebounding and interior defense.  Who is, by far the best rebounder on the team?  Melo.  And, who was the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year?  Melo.  That could spell trouble.  Fortunately, for them, Melo was declared ineligible after the seedings were announced (not that it definitely would have dropped them, but we’ve seen stranger things happen), so they are still a #1-seed and they still get UNC-Asheville tomorrow, whom they should be okay against even without Melo because Asheville isn’t all that deep.  They shouldn’t get too complacent, though, because we all know the best way to beat a zone is to get real hot from outside, and Asheville has a pair of phenomenally talented and experience guards in J.P. Primm and Matt Dickey, who comprise as good of a low-major backcourt as you’ll find anywhere.

Kansas St. is battle-tested and tough and should be pretty happy with their matchup with Southern Miss.  Larry Eustachy’s Golden Eagles have had a great season – and Eustachy is a great coach, but they seem to be taking on water recently, and I really don’t see this as your typical 8/9 game.  So, that means it will probably be the best game of the round…

Fans of the Orange are probably very much in support of Eustachy and his Southern Miss squad now, because without Melo, they do not matchup very well with the tough and rugged Wildcats.  With Melo, they probably would cruise through Pittsburgh; without him, it’s much less rosy upstate, so a Southern Miss win could go a long way.

  1. Syracuse – 52%
  2. Kansas St. – 36.5%
  3. Southern Miss- 11%
  4. UNC-Asheville – 0.5%

Wisconsin’s Pod – Thu/Sat in Albuquerque, NM

I talk a lot about underrated and underappreciated coaches on this blog, but there is no one in the country more underrated than Bo Ryan.  Name me the NBA players that Bo Ryan has been able to lure to Wisconsin.  Jon Leuer…?  Anyone else?  No, and yet the guy just keeps winning.  And, he has done it again this year, with a new set of smoke and mirrors.  But, there is one thing that has alluded him all these years – a Final Four.  I’m not too sure that this team is the one that will get that done for him, but with Bo, you never know.  Their trek starts today against a dangerous 13-seed from the Big Sky in Montana.  The Grizzlies boast a pair of dynamic guards in Will Cherry and Karim Jabbar, who really get out and guard people.  But, this isn’t a great matchup for the Grizz because Wisconsin doesn’t need to score much to win, so Montana’s defensive acumen isn’t as big of an advantage against the Badgers as it would against many other teams that rely on perimeter scoring to beat you.  That being said, if they can get by Wisconsin somehow, a second round showdown with Vanderbilt might be just the matchup that they would like.

Speaking of Vanderbilt, the Commodores come into the Tournament the way the came into the season – a chic Final Four pick.  The problem is that their work in the middle, they didn’t really do much to impress.  That being said, they have an immense amount of talent and experience, with Jenkins, Taylor, Ezeli, and Tinsley, and certainly have what it takes to make a serious run in this tournament.  The Fab Melo suspension may have helped them as much as anyone.  But, you know what’s funny?  The Vandy love is so palpable right now that it is completely overshadowing the team that I really thought would be getting that love – Harvard.  This team is really good, and were they matched up against anyone else, we might be hearing all this talk about the Crimson making the Sweet 16 and so on.  But, we haven’t…which means, they can actually be a savvy sleeper pick.

The second round in this pod is going to be so matchup-dependent (like anything else) that it is so hard to even think about right now.  Either way, this is a fascinating section of the draw that isn’t getting much talk because most people think Vandy is going to roll through (not that I disagree with them being the favorite here, I just think it’s a lot more wide open than one might be led to believe).

  1. Vanderbilt – 41%
  2. Wisconsin – 34%
  3. Harvard – 14%
  4. Montana – 11%

Florida St.’s Pod – Fri/Sun in Nashville, TN

Florida St. had a weekend for the ages, knocking off Duke on Satuday and UNC on Sunday – wow!  And, this team might just be that good.  They are experienced, mature, and talented.  Plus, with Bunny Colvin…I mean Leonard Hamilton…on the sidelines, they are well-coached.  That being said, let’s not go too crazy about a team that might not have a single pro on the roster.  They open with a team that is pretty underseeded, in St. Bonaventure, who did finish 4th in a good, deep A-10 and then won the tournament.  And, they absolutely have a pro on the roster, as Andrew Nicholson will, most definitely, be the best player on the floor on Friday.  The senior center from Canada is a man-child.  I don’t think it’ll be easy for the Seminoles, but they should survive.

Cincinnati went to the Big East championship game for the first time in their history – an impressive feat for a team that lost at home to Presbyterian earlier this year.  Say what you will about Yancy Gates – and I have – the guy can play.  They draw a Texas team that makes another tournament for the underappreciated Rick Barnes (I feel like I defend him every year around this time…and then he proves me to be an idiot when they underachieve).  The ‘Horns didn’t expect for their freshman center and freshman point guard to bolt for the NBA last year after good, but not great, seasons.  So, they were kind of left reeling at the start of the year, but found some semblance of consistency late, including a nice win over Iowa St. in the Big XII tournament.  J’Covan Brown is probably the best player on either roster, but I think this is a really bad matchup for Texas here – as they have a tendency to be “out-toughed” (another consistent trait of a Rick Barnes team that makes it harder to defend him).

I think the Seminoles got a pretty decent draw here, all things considered, as they get a 14-seed (albeit an underseeded one) to open and then either a “tough” team that isn’t as tough as them (Cincy) or a soft team that they will push around (Texas).  The ‘Noles should be heading to their second straight Sweet 16.

  1. Florida St. – 52%
  2. Cincinnati – 29%
  3. Texas – 13%
  4. St. Bonaventure – 6%

Ohio St.’s Pod – Thu/Sat in Pittsburgh, PA

As I saw it in November, Ohio St. came into the season as one of definitely two and maybe three teams that seemed head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the country.  The one that was a maybe (Kentucky) dominated the season and is the overall #1-seed.  My clear-cut preseason favorite (UNC) struggled at times, but still ended up as a #1-seed.  The Buckeyes finished in third place (albeit tied for first) in the Big Ten and lost in the conference tournament title game, ending up with a #2-seed here.  That being said, they are still loaded and will be a really tough out.  Their first opponent – a feisty Loyola (Md) team – is probably just happy to be here.  They are a very good team that I have been touting all year, but they really don’t have the horses to match up with the Buckeyes in any way.

I really like this Gonzaga team – and you have to hand it to them for having another nationally relevant season in Spokane, and I love Kevin Jones (the rest of his West Virginia team is a bit frustrating), so this is one of the marquee first-round matchups.  In fact, there might not be a better first round game than this one.

However, as much as I like that 7/10 matchup, it seems to me as if it might be one of those incredibly physical, warlike first round battles that leaves the survivor too wounded to compete in the next round.  I don’t see Gonzaga giving OSU a fight on Saturday, and while I think Kevin Jones can do anything, I don’t think Truck Bryant or Denis Klicli make enough shots to take down the Buckeyes.

  1. Ohio St. – 69.5%
  2. West Virginia – 18%
  3. Gonzaga – 12%
  4. Loyola (Md) – 0.5%

NCAA Tournament Preview – The West Region

The West Region is pretty stacked and, therefore, pretty wide open.  While they had a terrific season (and have the best tournament coach ever that isn’t named Wooden), it’s hard not to have some doubt in this region’s top seed, Michigan St.  Throw in the fact that they could have brutally tough matchups at every turn, and you’ve got yourself a potential sleeper Final Four pick here.

Michigan St.’s Pod – Fri/Sun in Columbus, OH

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t say that I was doubting Michigan St., necessarily.  This team did win the regular season and conference tournament of the best conference in America.  There is something to be said for that, at least.  They did draw – by far – the toughest 16-seed, in Long Island, but it’s still a 16-seed.  Just don’t immediately count out the Blackbirds, who have been here before, and played UNC really tough last year, before bowing out in the final minutes (the Blackbirds scored 87 against the Heels as a 16-seed last year).

The 8/9 game in this region might actually be more important for Spartan fans to pay attention to than MSU’s own game.  Memphis might be the most underseeded team in the entire field at #8 and is a team that can absolutely go toe-to-toe with MSU in the second round.  But, they could just as easily get swept up by a Rick Majerus-coached St. Louis team in this first round.  The Bilikens are very deep, very talented, and, obviously, very prepared.

For a #1-seed, this is not even close to a lock.  They are lined up with a very underseeded 16-seed and an unbelievably underseeded 8-seed.  Not saying that they will lose both, but this isn’t your typical cruise control pod for a #1-seed.  The best scenario for them is a St. Louis win over Memphis (certainly possible) because they match up very well against the Bilikens.

  1. Michigan St. – 56%
  2. Memphis – 31%
  3. St. Louis – 12%
  4. Long Island – 1%

 Louisville’s Pod – Thu/Sat in Portland, OR

I am going to have trouble being objective about this one because of my love for this Long Beach St. team and, to a lesser degree, this Davidson team.  I also think that Louisville, despite their top-5 ranking in December and Big East tournament championship last week, are not as good as their seed (which is warranted) may indicate.  I do really like this New Mexico team, though.  This is, BY FAR, the most interesting pod in the entire field.  If I could go to one site this weekend, it would absolutely be Portland (they also have Indiana-NM State and Wichita-VCU).

Louisville takes on a very, very good Davidson team that beat Kansas in Kansas City this year.  Jake Cohen – a forward from Philly – leads a terrific junior class that came in in the wake of the Steph Curry tournament run.  I think that there is a really good shot at an upset here.

And, the other game has another good shot at an upset, as Long Beach St., one of the best low-majors in recent memory, takes on a New Mexico team that would compete in any conference in America.  This game is incredibly good, and I think the winner might be the favorite to win this pod.

I have no idea what is going to happen here.  I want to give everyone 25%, but that sounds cop-outish.  So, I’ll go with this year’s strange basketball obsession, Casper Ware and the 49ers.

  1. Long Beach St. – 30%
  2. New Mexico – 29%
  3. Louisville – 22%
  4. Davidson – 19%

Marquette’s Pod – Thu/Sat in Louisville, KY

If you want a sleeper title contender, look no further than Marquette.  The Golden Eagles are experienced, talented, and motivated.  While I think this whole “they play really hard” thing is totally overblown (what does Buzz Williams inspire that 50-60 other coaches don’t – I actually think he is a pretty poor game-day coach) they are just very talented.  Jae Crowder, while not at all deserving of Big East POY, is a terrific player.  Darius Johnson-Odom might even be better.  Vander Blue is a super-talented point guard, and this team flat-out guards you.  It should be really interesting to see how they do depending on who they get from the play-in game, BYU or Iona, as the teams have vastly different styles.  But, either way, I think Marquette should survive…should survive.

The Committee did a nice job with Murray St.‘s seeding.  The polls have them as a top-10 team, but their conference and schedule and such have them more like a 10-seed.  So, they split the difference and gave them a solid #6.  And, even more beneficial, they gave them a couple matchups that don’t completely overmatch them in the post.  They open with a very good, very underappreciated Colorado St. team that does stuggle away from home.  But, anywhere you play UNLV, New Mexico, and San Diego St., you’ve gotta be pretty good to pull out W’s – and they’ve got all three of them on their resume.

This pod is pretty wide-open…if Marquette doesn’t win it.

  1. Marquette – 54%
  2. Murray St. – 18%
  3. Colorado St. – 15%
  4. BYU – 8%
  5. Iona – 5%

Missouri’s Pod – Fri/Sun in Omaha, NE

Missouri could have easily been a #1-seed (over UNC).  But, at least they were put in the region with the weakest #1, on paper.  They weren’t done any favors with the #3 Marquette on their side, but I still don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t, at least, get to the Elite Eight.  Also, it looks like the Committee decided to give them a 16-seed disguised as a 15-seed, in Norfolk St.  It was a great season for Norfolk, but, short of some crazy foul trouble or an injury, they really have no shot here, as they didn’t even win the regular season title in the lowly MEAC.

Missouri won’t be given a break in the second round at all, though, as Florida, a top-15 team all year, is the 7-seed, and Virginia, a top-4 ACC team, is the 10-seed.  This UF-UVa game is one of the best of the entire first round.  It should be fascinating to see just how many terrible shots that Boynton and Walker chuck up because of the frustration caused by the slow, slower, sloooooooooower pace of UVa.

And, then the winner of that game, will present Missouri with much different challenges, depending on who it is.  Florida can run and gun with anyone, and UVa can frustrate the hell out of anyone.  Mizzou is not going to have an easy time in Round 2.

  1. Missouri – 51%
  2. Florida – 30%
  3. Virginia – 18.9%
  4. Norfolk St. – 0.1%

NCAA Tournament Preview – The South Region

The first two rounds of the NCAA tournament constitute the greatest 4 days on the sporting calendar every year.  It never disappoints and always lives up to its ridiculous hype.  It’s simply the best.  Forget “filling out our brackets” to the end, let’s just focus on this weekend’s Madness and then when the smoke clears and we know who’s left standing, we can figure out where to go from there.  It’s all the first two rounds right for me right now – and I like to think of it as a series of 4-team tournaments (or “pods”) around the country.

Let’s start in the South.  Overall, I don’t think Kentucky has all that tough a road (which is fine, considering they are the #1 overall seed).  Duke is clearly the weakest #2, though Baylor could beat anyone on any given day, but they would have to avoid implosion for three rounds before even getting a shot at UK.  Indiana is flawed at #4, and Wichita St. is good, but not real threat to the ‘Cats.  The one intriguing spot is UConn at #9, particularly with the two coaches hating each other, but that game will be played with the Commonwealth of Kentucky (Louisville), and there is certainly no guarantee that the Huskies will even arrive to play that game.

Kentucky’s Pod Thu/Sat in Louisville, KY

The #1 overall seed, Kentucky, gets to open with the play-in winner, who will probably be in-state “rival,” Western Kentucky.  The Hilltoppers have a losing record on the year and won’t give much of a problem (nor will the winner of the dreadful SWAC, Mississippi Valley St., if they win tonight).

The 8/9 matchup is very intriguing if, for nothing else, it dictates whether or not the top overall seed has to play the defending national champs in the second round.  Iowa St.’s Royce White is a total stud and “The Mayor” Freddy Hoiberg has done great work with the Cyclones, but they get a rough first-round matchup with UConn, who may have righted the ship.

Obviously, as the #1 overall seed, playing in their home state, the ‘Cats should get out of their pod unscathed, but a second-round matchup with UConn could be a really tough proposition if this is the UConn team that was #4 in the preseason polls.  Drummond and Oreaki inside are massive, and Jeromy Lamb and Shabazz Napier have shown what they can do.  If the Huskies get anything out of highly-touted Roscoe James or the German Neils Giffey, then they can be really tough.  So, here are my very unscientific odds to win this pod:

  1. Kentucky – 85%
  2. UConn – 10.9%
  3. Iowa St. – 4%
  4. W.Kentucky – 0.09%
  5. Mississippi Valley St. – 0.01%

Indiana’s Pod Thu/Sat in Portland, OR

The loss of Vernell Jones is absolutely heartbreaking, when you think about it.  Here is a guy who is now in his fourth year as an basketball player at Indiana University and has never played in a postseason game.  And, now, in his senior season, after three years of building to this point, when his team is finally relevant again – in the top 15 in the country – he tears his ACL in the Big Ten tournament, ending his season, his career, and his only chance at playing the Big Dance.  Just brutal.  The lone bright spot from it is that he won’t have to be in uniform when the Hoosiers get upset in the First Round.  That’s right, I really like this New Mexico St. team, and I think they will beat Indiana on Thursday.  Wendel McKines is one of the best players in the country that no one has ever heard of…until now.

The other game in this pod was the third matchup announced by CBS on Sunday, and I almost threw something at my TV because I saw where it was going – where it always goes.  The Committee always seems to have a habit of matching up really good mid-majors against one another, assuring that one of them will go out, so that they don’t continue on in the process, killing the TV ratings of later rounds.  And, I thought that this Committe was doing it again.  As it turned out, this Committee did a pretty fantastic job and was very fair to the mid-majors, this matchup just happened to come through.  Would I have rather seen Cincinnati-VCU and Wichita-Texas?  Yes, but that’s splitting hairs, and I probably would have complained about Wichita being underseeded.  Anyway, this game is going to be really good.  VCU‘s chaos pressure is actually a pretty bad matchup for Wichita St.  Joe Ragland is a great scoring guard, but isn’t incredibly efficient with the ball.  The Rams might force 20+ turnovers on Thursday.  But, they also aren’t the same VCU team that shot lights-out in last year’s tournament.  Brandon Burgess is very good player, but he’s not an NBA draft pick, like they have had in the past.  And, Wichita is very good and very deep.  Garrett Stutz might be the most improved player in the country, and all the talk about Ragland has people forget that Ben Smith and, especially, Toure Murry are really outstanding players.  I like the Shockers to survive here…barely.

And, either way, I like the winner of that 5-12 game to get through this pod en route to a showdown with Kentucky next week.  So, give me Wichita St. to win this pod, but it’s really way up in the air.  While I like New Mexico St. to beat Indiana, I actually think Indiana has a better chance to win the pod because I don’t see the Aggies winning back-to-back games.

  1. Wichita St. – 36%
  2. VCU – 29%
  3. Indiana – 21%
  4. New Mexico St. – 14%

Baylor’s Pod – Thu/Sat in Albuquerque, NM

Baylor might be the most physically talented team in the country.  They have unbelievable athletes on this team and can be scary good.  But, they play with immaturity and even apathy at times.  But, when they’re good, they can beat anyone – and are pretty scary.  They open on Thursday with a South Dakota St. team that has a guy named Nate Wolters, who you will hear a whole lot about in the next couple of days.  He’s really, really good, and puts up ridiculous numbers.  And, this team has become the poster-child for national college hoops writers that want to show everyone that they know about more than just the major conferences (my guess is because they’re enamored by the nickname, Jackrabbits).  It’s kind of annoying, but doesn’t take away what they’ve done this year.  They finished second to a good Oral Roberts team in the Summit and have a 20-point win at Washington on their resume.  But, they will be overmatched on Thursday, so don’t let anyone talk you into this upset pick.

The 6/11 game is fascinating, actually.  The Pac-12 tournament champs, Colorado, aren’t that far from home in Albuquerque, and they are very good at home.  They have a double-double machine in Anthony Roberson, but he won’t be the best big on the floor on Thursday.  Mike Moser – a UCLA transfer – is an absolute stud for UNLV, and should at least cancel out whatever Roberson gives Colorado.  And, the Rebels have better guards in Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall.  I like UNLV here easily to set up a really nice second-round matchup with Baylor.  That is one I cannot wait for.

Can Baylor put together two great games in three days?  If not, UNLV will beat them.  If this game happens, it might be the highlight of a great Saturday.  Wolters is good enough to win a couple games, so, while I think the Jackrabbits are overmatched, I don’t think it’s totally out of the question that they get through here.  I actually give them a slightly better chance than Colorado.

  1. Baylor – 43%
  2. UNLV – 36%
  3. South Dakota St. – 11%
  4. Colorado – 10%

Duke’s Pod – Fri/Sun in Greensboro, NC

I do like rewarding the higher seeds with an easier path and maybe a slightly shorter trip, but I do think that UNC or Duke playing in Greensboro, NC, is a little too unfair.  But, I guess the almighty dollar always trumps everything.  This is not your typical season for a Duke team, but it is your prototypical Coach K season, as he has completely maximized the talent on his roster this year.  He is so good, it’s really getting to be unfair.  And, they drew a team that probably can’t pull off this upset – especially in Greensboro – but they will hang with them.  While everyone has been loving Nate Wolters all year, I have been singing the praises of C.J. McCollum, Lehigh‘s point gu…scratch that…do-everything-guard.  He has scored 2,030 points, dished out 262 assists, grabbed 622 rebounds, and has more steals (207) than fouls (168) and nearly as many steals as turnovers (227).  In fact, this year, he did have more steals than turnovers.  Those are unbelievable career numbers…and the dude is ONLY A JUNIOR!  That’s right, the all-time leading scorer in Patriot League history (who happens to average 3+ assists, 3+ steals, and 6+ rebounds a game) still has another year of eligibility.  Ya, he’s that good.  But, Coach K will figure out a way to slow him down – he always does.

The 7/10 game is a fascinating game between the nation’s most overachieving team (Notre Dame), and one of its most underachieving teams (Xavier).  If you said at the beginning of the season that these two teams would meet in the tournament, you might think that XU was the higher seed in a 5/12 game or 4/13 game (after getting over the shock of ND actually making the tournament).  But, no, Mike Brey has done a terrific coaching job in South Bend, and quite honestly, Chris Mack has done a pretty terrible job with the Musketeers.  That being said, XU is cleary the more talented of the two, and probably the only one of the two that really could win this pod.

Either way, Duke has a really nice draw here, both with location and opponents.  Even though it was nice of the NCAA to allow Luke Harangody to return to ND after they lost Abromaitis, it won’t be enough.  Duke should cruise through this pod.

  1. Duke – 76%
  2. Xavier – 19%
  3. Notre Dame – 4%
  4. Lehigh – 1%

CTC Final Standings: Primm Comes from Behind on the Last Day to Steal the Overall Title

For the second year in a row, Bry enters the final day with the lead and doesn’t come through with the victory.  After Rikey stole the overall title by a single point last year, Primm takes the championship this year.  Though this year, it was by the decent margin of 57.5.  Thus ends a great CTC all around.

There were four games on Day Fourteen.  Two separate games were won by 3-seeds in the finals (worth 100 points), another was a 1-seed (worth 60 points), and the fourth was by a 4-seed that no one got right.  Interestingly, no one in the field got more than one of them right.  KA, Mac, Primm, and RDoc each got a 100-point game right to win the day with 100 points.  Gersh, Scoot, Stri, and Waters all got the 60-point game right.  The other 12 people all took a fat goose egg on the final day of the competition.

Primm, who made the ultimate jump to #1 right at the finish line, was the only person to gain more than 1 spot on the final day, as he came from 4th place to win it.  Lohse, who fell from 3rd to 5th, was the only one to drop more than one spot on the final day.  Mac, RDoc, Stri, and Waters all moved up a spot at the final buzzer.  Rikey, RSmith, Gross, Doogan, and Bry dropped a spot on the final day.

FINAL STANDINGS (days won/conferences won):

  1. Primm – 2887.5 (2 days/3 confs – NEC*, BigEast, ACC)
  2. Bry – 2830 (0 days/2 confs – BigSky*, BigWest*)
  3. Doogan – 2816 (0 days/1 conf – SWAC*)
  4. Mac – 2811 (1 day/6 confs – ASun, Patriot*, NEC*, MAC, BigWest*, SEC)
  5. Lohse – 2799 (3 days/7 confs- BigSouth, Horizon, OVC, ASun, C-USA, Southland, WAC)
  6. RDoc – 2771 (2 days/2 confs – BigSky*, MWC*)
  7. Gross – 2668.5 (0 days/4 confs – ASun, CAA, Summit, Pac-12)
  8. Alexi – 2611 (1 day/2 confs – OVC, WCC)
  9. Teddy – 2572 (1 day/4 confs – ASun, MAAC, SunBelt, A-10)
  10. Dave – 2513 (1 day/3 confs – OVC, MEAC, SWAC*)
  11. Stri – 2510.5 (1 day/3 confs – OVC, ASun, SWAC*)
  12. RSmith – 2471.5 (0 days/1 conf – MVC*)
  13. J – 2422.5 (1  day/1 conf – BigSouth)
  14. Scoot – 2388.5 (1 day/4 confs – ASun, AmEast, Southland, Big10)
  15. Lynch – 2331.5 (0 days/2 confs – BigSky*, BigWest*)
  16. Waters – 2288.5 (0 days/3 confs – AmEast, WAC, BigWest*)
  17. Rikey – 2223.5 (1 day/4 confs – OVC, ASun, NEC*, BigSky*)
  18. Gersh – 2205.5 (0 days/2 confs – ASun, Big10)
  19. Lil Lohse – 2120 (0 days/2 confs – NEC*, SoCon)
  20. KA – 1888 (1 day/1 conf – BigXII)

CTC Final Standings: Final Conference Standings & Money Division Recap

As seems to happen every year, the CTC ends right when the Selection Show begins, so I obviously get carried away thinking ahead to the greatest sports event of the year, without looking back on the CTC, as a good commish should…well, I am not a good commish.  But, considering the countless posts that I write during the two weeks, I might as well write one last one with all the tournaments that ended on the final weekend.  So, I decided to just give quick recaps on all 31 tournaments (with the money division updated).

Big South Conference

The VMI Run to the Finals Wins the Conference for J and Lohse

The unlikely run by the Keydets was enough for J and Lohse to easily win the 2012 Big South title, scoring 104 points – 41 more than anyone else.  This is the first Big South title for either of these guys, as 7 people have now won a share of the Big South over the 5 years of recordkeeping.  Defending champion, Doogan, finished a distant second place.

J takes the $9 prize from the Big South.

Horizon League

Lohse Rides Detroit to Another Conference Crown

The Lohse Train was rolling, as he wins a share of the first conference and the second one outright.  Only getting one first round game wrong, Lohse finished with 165 points in the Horizon.  This was Lohse’s first Horizon crown.  Defending champ, Bry, had won two of the last three, did finish in the top 5, but way off the pace.

Gross – who also hit Detroit – finished second place (123 points) to take the $18 bounty here.

Ohio Valley Conference

A Nearly All-Chalk OVC Tournament Gives Us a Five-Way Tie at the Top

There was only one upset (7 over 6 in the first round), so it’s no surprise that 5 people tied for this crown.  The real surprise is that no one actually hit  this perfectly, as Alexi, Dave, Lohse, Rikey, and Stri all missed one game, pocketing 70 points from this conference.  J was not a part of the five-way tie, which is a bit surprising, considering he had won this conference two years in a row.

Dave and Rikey split this pot for $4.50 apiece.

Atlantic Sun Conference

We’ll Take Your Five-Way Tie and Raise You Three More

The A-Sun wasn’t all that chalky, but it did give us our most divided conference championship of the 2012 CTC (tied for the most in history with the 2011 Summit League crown).  Gersh, Gross, Lohse, Mac, Rikey, Stri, Scoot, and Teddy all scored 48 points in the A-Sun, which was tops in the conference.  Neither Dave (co-2011 champ) nor Bry (2010 champ) were a part of this 8-way tie, but even more surprising was that the tie didn’t include J, who has a share of the 2011 A-Sun crown and sole possession of the 2008 and 2009 A-Sun titles.

Gersh, Gross, and Rikey each pocket $3 from their A-Sun excellence.

West Coast Conference

Alexi Hits Near Perfection to Take Home 130 Points and a WCC Title

The WCC was almost entirely chalk.  Alexi thought it would actually be all chalk, so he missed perfection by a single game (USF upsetting LMU).  He took 130 points here and the title, edging defending WCC champ, Bry, by 4 points.

Bry does take the $18 pot here in the money division.

Patriot League

Mac Hits Perfection in the Patriot League

A really good PL tournament was perfectly predicted by Mac, good for 72 points.  Lohse finished in second with 66, and then there was an eight-way tie for third with 54, including the defending champion, Gross.

Gross, Bry, J, and Dave were all a part of that tie, which happened to win the money division, earning them each a cool $2.25.

Missouri Valley Conference

RSmith Completes The Most Impressive Bracket of the 2012 CTC, Hitting a Tough MVC Perfectly

Perfect brackets usually come along when conference tournaments give us very few surprises.  Well, that is not the case here, as RSmith hits the MVC perfectly, which included a surprising Evansville win over Missouri St. and a shocking Illinois St. win over Wichita St.  RSmith’s impressive stuff netted him 244 points here.  Defending champion, Alexi, finished in a respectable fifth place, but was more than 100 points off the pace.

Dave, the only other one to pick Illinois St. to reach the finals, picked up the $18 pot in the process.

Northeast Conference

Four different entries hit the NEC Perfectly

Only two minor upsets through the NEC tournament led to a four-way tie at the top, all going 7-for-7 in the NEC.  Lil Lohse, Mac, Primm, and Rikey all took home 73.5 points for the perfect NEC brackets they submitted.  Scoot and Stri were perfect last year, but both finished way off the pace this year.  Stri had actually won 3 of the last 4 NEC titles (two perfectly).

The perfect brackets from Rikey and Primm net them each $4.50.

Colonial Athletic Conference

Gross Narrowly Edged Doogan for the CAA Title

Gross only misses two games in the CAA, to earn 175 points and the 2012 title.  Doogan was right behind with 168, and the two-time defending champ, Bry, was third with 161.

Gross wins the CAA kitty of $18.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Teddy Dominates a Tough MAAC Tournament This Year

With Iona and Manhattan losing early, this MAAC tournament was tough to call, but Teddy was pretty good – only missing two games and scoring 106 points.  Scoot was a distant 2nd with 88.  Defending MAAC champ Primm was way off the pace with 64.  Two-time champ Bry (’09 and ’10) finished in 19th place with only 20 points.

Dave, the only one in the money division to hit the Fairfield upset of Iona, takes the MAAC bounty of $9.

Southern Conference

Lil Lohse Navigates the Murky Waters of the 2012 SoCon Tournament

The very strange conference didn’t cause Lil Lohse any problems, as he took 96 points away from this tournament.  Dave and RSmith finished second, while defending champ, Gross, was in the middle of the pack.

Dave takes the $9 SoCon pot.

Summit League

Gross Utterly Dominates a Tough Summit Bracket

When Oral Roberts loses in the semis, and Oakland loses in the quarters, you know that this was tough to call.  Well, Gross hit both of those upsets and wins the Summit with an impressive 118 points.  This is our first repeat champion of the 2012 CTC, as Gross was part of an 8-way tie for the 2011 title.

Gross also earns $9 for his efforts.

Sun Belt Conference

The Craziest Bracket of Them All Goes to Lohse, Who Was One of Only Two to Even Get One of the Finalists

Lohse and RSmith (who finished second) were the only two people to even get a single finalist right.  Neither of them got the champion, and Lohse wins the tournament with 104 points.  Defending champion, J, had just 28 points, but that was 28 points more than Dave, who finished with zero Sun Belt points.

Gross wins another money division title for another $9.

Big Sky Conference

Perfection for Four People in the Big Sky’s All-Chalk Finish

Bry, Lynch, Rikey, and RDoc all went 5-for-5 in the Big Sky, as they went all chalk for 72 points.  This is the second straight title for Bry – and second straight perfect bracket.

Bry, Rikey, and RDoc will all take home $3 for their perfection.

Mid-American Conference

Mac Edges RDoc by Just 3 Points for the 2012 MAC Crown

The crazy new MAC format was good for Mac, who scored 195 in this conference, just 3 more than RDoc, who finished second.  Doogan, the defending champ and winner of 3 of the last 4 MACs, finished in third place.

Ohio’s 1-point win over Akron in the title game gave RDoc the $18 MAC title over Bry.

Big East Conference

Louisville Wins Primm the Big East and, Essentially, the Overall Title

Primm took the Louisville Cardinals all the way to the Big East finals, giving him 295 points (135 more than anyone else in the Big East) and was crucial to his come-from-behind overall championship.  Defending champion, Scoot, had just 100.

Primm won the $27 at stake here in the Big East.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Dave Cruises to a Very Impressive MEAC Title

Dave hit Hampton over #1 Savannah St. and Bethune-Cookman into the finals, giving him 81 points and a 31-point win over everyone else in the MEAC.  Doogan, who finished all alone in second place, gives up his MEAC crown to Dave here.

Dave takes the $9 on the line for the MEAC.

Atlantic Ten Conference

Teddy’s UMass Upset Pick is Enough to Win a Conference Without Picking Either Finalist

Teddy hit the huge UMass upset of #1 Temple, leading him to 153 points and an A-10 title, despite getting both finalists wrong.  Defending champion Waters, who has won 2 of the last 4 A-10s, finished in last place here with just 36 points.

Primm continues to clean up in the money division, taking another $18 here.

Big XII Conference

KA Dominates the Big XII, Scoring 325 Points in the Process

KA got the first Big XII game wrong (Texas A&M over Oklahoma), and then went on a 10-game Big XII winning streak, including the Baylor upset of Kansas and the Missouri championship.  Defending champion, Bry, finished in second with 265 points.

Bry did earn himself $27 for his runner-up finish, though.

Pacific 12 Conference

Gross Rides Arizona and Colorado to a Pac-12 Championship

Gross had Arizona going to the finals and Colorado to the semis.  That was enough to get him 225 points and the Pac-12 championship – barely edging Doogan.  Lynch, who won the 2011 Pac-10 title, must have been thrown by the two extra teams, as he finished tied for last with 30 points.

Gross pockets another $27 here.

Conference USA

Lohse, Who Dominated Week One, Reminds People That He’s Still Around With an Impressive C-USA Title

If Houston had held on against UTEP in the very first C-USA tournament game (they blew a big second half lead and lost in OT), then Lohse would have put together one of the more impressive perfect brackets we have seen in a while.  Either way, taking 296 points was the best performance in any tournament the whole CTC (if you discount the multipliers), including riding 6th-seeded Marshall to the title game.  Defending champion, Lynch, was in the middle of the pack this year.

Gross, who was runner-up to Lohse, takes the money division for another $18.

Southland Conference

Lohse Wins Another Conference Title – Sharing This One With Scoot

Lohse is rolling again, as he wins yet another conference championship, but has to split this one with Scoot.  Both guys took home 64.5 points here, barely edging KA and Doogan for this title.  Defending champion, Dave, was in the middle of the pack here.

Doogan’s second-place was good enough for the $9 pot here.

Southwestern Athletic Conference

Dave, Doogan, and Stri are All Perfect in the SWAC

A couple of quarterfinal upsets didn’t bother these three, as they cruised to a perfect SWAC bracket and the 52 points to went with it.  Lynch was in a group that finished just off the pace, but wasn’t enough to defend his 2011 title.

Dave and Doogan split the $9 pot, taking $4.50 each.

Mountain West Conference

RDoc Goes Perfect for a Nice Mountain West Title

216 points goes to RDoc for his impressive run to perfection in the MWest.  Bry and J were both perfect last year – J had a decent 160 points this year, but Bry struggled with only 108.

RDoc’s efforts give him a quick $18 here.

Western Athletic Conference

Tied With Waters, Lohse Wins His Seventh Conference Title – Most of 2012

Lohse and Waters were the only two to hit the Hawaii upset of Idaho and pick the right champion, earning themselves 126 points and a WAC title in the process.  This is the second straight WAC title for Waters.

Gross, Gersh, and RDoc all had 96 points in the WAC, adding $6 to each of their bankrolls.

Big West Conference

Bry and Mac Hit a Nice Perfect Bracket Here

There was a 7 over 2 upset in this bracket, so going perfect was no easy task, but Bry and Mac were both able to do it for 64.5 points.  This is the second time Bry has hit this conference perfectly (2009).  Defending champion, J, was just 6 points off the leaders, in third place.

Bry wins $9 for his efforts.

Great West

Lynch and Waters Are Impressively Perfect

This conference was not easy to predict, but Lynch and Waters both did so, which included a big NJIT upset of the top-seed, Utah Valley.  Perfection got them both 22.5 points.  Defending champ, J, had a mere 2 points here, finishing in last place.

Gersh’s 14 points were enough to get him a quick $8 from the Great West.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Florida St. Gives Primm the ACC and the Overall Title at the Eleventh Hour

Primm rode Bunny Colvin’s Florida State Seminoles to 275 points, an ACC Championship and a 2012 CTC Championship.  Defending champ, Alexi, finished in 19th place with 110 points.

Primm takes the $27 pot here, and clinches an additional $72 for the overall title.

Big Ten Conference

Gersh and Scoot are Nearly Perfect in the Big Ten

If Indiana had beaten Wisconsin in the quarters, Gersh and Scoot would have been perfect in Indianapolis.  Even so, they took home 285 points from this conference.  Defending champion, Primm, had just 125.

Gersh earned himself $27 for the excellent Big Ten picks.

Southeastern Conference

Mac Sets Single-Conference Record with 405 SEC Points

The only game Mac missed was the very first one, when LSU beat Arkansas.  Other than that, he was perfect, netting him 405 – a CTC record for a single conference.  Rikey, who completed a perfect SEC bracket last year en route to a dramatic overall win, had just 100 points this year, good for 19th place.

Doogan and Primm had 315, which was just enough to hold off RDoc and split the pot – $13.50 each.

Money Division Recap

Primm’s Overall Title Leads the Way, While Gross and Dave Also Finish in the Black

  1. Primm – $102
  2. Gross – $32.35
  3. Dave – $9.75
  4. Bry – ($0.75)
  5. Gersh – ($10.50)
  6. RDoc – ($15.00)
  7. Doogan – ($24.00)
  8. Rikey – ($45.00)
  9. J – ($48.75)

CTC Day Fourteen Overall Preview: It’s a Two-Horse Race…

Selection Sunday.  My favorite day of the year.  Not only because it reveals the menu for our Madness, but because it comes with the crowning of another CTC champion.  There are four major conference championships today (each worth at least 60 points, and there are 3 people within 60 of the current leader, and three more within 180.  But, in actuality, there is only one person who can catch Bry for the 2012 overall title – and it all comes down to a single game for all the marbles.  If Florida State beats UNC today, Primm will come from behind and win, which would be the second year in a row that Bry blew a lead on the final day of the competition.

Championships
Atlantic 10
ACC
Big Ten
SEC

CTC Day Fourteen Preview: ACC & CTC Championships On the Line in the ATL

If you bought a ticket to Saturday’s ACC semifinal doubleheader in Atlanta, then you’re probably pretty glad you did.  Both games yesterday were dramatic, well-played, down-to-the-wire contests that showed that the top of the ACC should not be judged at all by the rest of the league’s struggles.  Now, today, we’ve got another great game to top it off.

Gross has the ACC lead and UNC winning the title, so a Tar Heel title will give him the ACC championship, which is nice.  But, the one with the most at stake (e.g. everything) is Primm.  A FSU win today and Primm will steal not only the 2012 ACC title, but also the 2012 overall title as well.

#1 North Carolina vs. #3 Florida St.
The last time these two teams met, the result was so jarring (a 33-point FSU win) that all the national stories were revolving around why we should write off UNC as a title contender and about whether or not Roy Williams has any respect for walkons.  Today, the talk is about whether or not UNC can get to the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament if Kentucky falters today.  It looked like FSU had a shot at an unexpected ACC regular season title this year, but they fell short.  Now, they can at least pull off a nice tournament title if they can come through today.

Primm is the only one with FSU winning the title and will have earned both the conference and overall titles, if that prediction comes through.  Half the field (Alexi, Bry, Doogan, Gersh, Gross, Lohse, Rikey, RDoc, Scoot, Stri) has UNC winning this title, including Bry, who will clinch the overall title with a Tar Heels win today.

CTC Day Fourteen Preview: A Fantastic SEC Title Game

Kentucky is one win away from running the table in the SEC – a very impressive feat, no matter how “down” this conference is or how good this UK team is.  But, they don’t exactly have an easy final game today to do it.

Doogan and Primm are perfect in the SEC to this point.  Both have Kentucky winning the tournament, so they will split this title if the ‘Cats get it done.  If Vandy wins today, Mac will win the SEC with a massive 405 points.  RDoc will win the SEC money division outright if Vandy wins today.

#1 Kentucky vs. #3 Vanderbilt
The best team in America played three very uninspired halves down here in New Orleans, but the second half against Florida yesterday was very impressive.  Vandy caught a couple huge tournament-style breaks to get here, have to beat #11 Georgia and #7 Ole Miss on their way to today’s title game.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that the Commodores are immensely talented, experienced, and, typically, very well-coached.  This is their chance to turn around what was, up to this point, a bit of a disappoinment of a season.

The CTC was all over the SEC tournament this year, as all 20 entries have one off these two teams winning it.  17 have Kentucky; KA, Mac, and RDoc have Vandy.

CTC Day Fourteen Preview: The Big Ten Showdown

The best conference in America started to show some chinks in the armor down the stretch, as teams like Minnesota, Northwestern, and especially Illinois, were revealed to be rather fraudulent.  But, that doesn’t change how good the top of this league is.  And, now we’ve got a championship game that may easily be recreated in the Final Four in a couple of weeks.

Rikey is the current Big Ten leader and will clinch the 2012 CTC title here with an Ohio St. win.  If the Spartans come through today, Gersh and Scoot will split the 2012 crown.

#1 Michigan St. vs. #3 Ohio St.
One of the best 3-seeds in a conference tournament I can remember is taking on the conference’s #1-seed in a game that could determine a #1-seed in the Big Tournament (though, more likely, a #2 is the ceiling for the Buckeyes).  OSU seems to have found that extra gear at just the right time, as they have two blowouts of sure-fire tournament teams, beating Purdue by 17 on Friday night and Michigan by 22 yesterday.  Michigan St. won a weird game yesterday against Wisconsin, but Tom Izzo might be the best ever at coaching in a tournament setting.

Gersh, Scoot, Stri, and Waters are the only 4 with #1 Michigan St. here.  KA, Lil Lohse, and Lynch have already lost this game with Purdue, Michigan, and Indiana.  The other 13 have Ohio St.