Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Initial March Madness Thoughts - Part II

For Initial March Madness Thoughts - Part I, click here.

On to the East, South, and final predictions.


(1) Pittsburgh v. (16) East Tennessee State: Pitt is an extremely tough team that plays great defense and pushes people around. I like their team’s long-term prospects.

Pick: Pitt

(8) Oklahoma State v. (9) Tennessee: This game was one of three where I had a lot of trouble deciding what to do. I breezed through the bracket, picking confidently (and surely errantly), but I had to come back to this game. The trouble is that I don’t like this Tennessee team at all. But then I don’t trust this Oklahoma State team either after watching UW eviscerate them earlier this season. Additionally, I have nothing against headbands, but the way that the Tennessee guys wear them… the look like girls. There’s nothing wrong with girls or women’s basketball or whatever, but there is something wrong with looking like a female when you’re a male and not a transvestite. I can’t get past that look. I am fully aware that these headbands are monumentally meaningless and that my comments are bordering on misogyny, but I just hate that look. It doesn’t take much for me to latch onto irrational, inconsequential beliefs, and these headbands have done it. This is coming from a guy who enjoys SEC football and Tennessee football specifically.

Pick: Tennessee (grudgingly)

(5) Florida State v. (12) Wisconsin: As documented, I dislike Big 10 basketball. However, I can appreciate what the style can do to teams that aren’t talented enough to overcome Big 10 discipline. A team like Washington State plays Big 10 basketball and I can appreciate that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Florida State seems like a team to me that will not be able to stay focused against an extraordinarily patient Wisconsin team.

Pick: Wisconsin

(4) Xavier v. (13) Portland State: I like what Ken Bone has done with this Portland State team and I like that they’ll be sort of close-to-home in Boise. They beat Gonzaga at Gonzaga after the Connecticut game. They nearly won at UW. They’re a nice team, but Xavier is better and is more experienced having advanced to the Great 8 last year. I don’t see PSU pulling this off.

Pick: Xavier

(6) UCLA v. (11) VCU: It’s really too bad for UCLA that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love aren’t there anymore. This team would be positioned to do some great things if they were. Jrue Holiday isn’t providing the lift that I’m sure UCLA thought that he would provide. They just aren’t that good of a team offensively. Defensively they’re still nice, but I just don’t like their chances, and this looks to be a bad matchup against VCU. Also, I hate their uniforms. I’m a huge proponent of blue, especially powder/baby blue in unis, but for some reason I cannot buy in to UCLA’s gear. Football or basketball. I’m not sure what it is, but it could be the font. I just hate them. I loved Eric Maynor two years ago when he dismantled Duke and I can see him doing the same thing here. I like the guy and I don’t see anyone stopping him for UCLA, again, if Westbrook was still there, it would be a different story.

Pick: VCU

(3) Villanova v. (14) American: Nova is a real nice team. I love the way that these guys play. They’ve got boatloads of experience and are playing well. I like their long-term chances also. The only thing I know about American is that a kid from Issaquah goes there and scores a bit for them. They don’t stand a chance.

Pick: Villanova

(7) Texas v. (10) Minnesota: This was the second of three games that I couldn’t figure out what to think initially. Texas has lost two great players (Durant and Augustin) in two years and it’s got to be tough to recover from that. Minnesota is another Big 10 school that I can’t really get behind but was tempted to advance because of their defensive abilities, but I don’t think that they can score and Texas will be able to a little bit more.

Pick: Texas (in a close, and gross, game)

(2) Duke v. (15) Binghamton: I hate Duke more than I hate Big 10 basketball. It’s the constant fellating of Duke’s program and of Coach K that gets me the most. Yes. I understand that they are a great program. Yes. I understand that they play hard and he gets the most out of the guys he has (as evidenced by the utter lack of success that Duke players have had in the NBA). But I need it to stop and the only way that it stops is if they lose. I’m being shortsighted here, I realize, because if it’s not Duke, then it’ll just be some other team that gets jocked. I get that. But right now it’s Duke and I want it to end.

Here’s something that I find funny and so amazingly dated. Do you remember what a big deal it was when Elton Brand was thinking about declaring early for the NBA Draft? Coach K, to that point, had never had a player leave early. Never. That was about 10 years ago, but seems like 20. It’s hard to believe. But then 10 years ago middle-schoolers weren’t sending each other naked pictures of themselves on their cell phones either.

As for Duke’s team, I don’t like their style of play because they’re too in love with the jumper. Now I love a syrupy J as much as anyone, but teams that rely on the perimeter shot a little too often are destined for trouble because the shot isn’t always going to fall.

I read a story on Binghamton a few weeks ago in the “New York Times” about the troubles that the program is having with the hoop team. It’s amazing how much just 15 guys can have on the psyche of a school that has 11,515 undergraduate students. The hoop team makes up .001% of the student population and the administration and faculty act like someone strapped a used diaper to their faces. I enjoy the myth of the student athlete as much as the next guy, but don’t tell me that these guys are ruining the academic integrity of your institution. It’s embarrassing. The only reason that anyone even knows about these guys is because internal folks complain about it. So who’s hurting the institution more? The complainers, who draw attention to the “problem” or the .001% who no one knows?

Pick: Duke


(1) North Carolina v. (16) Radford: I’d be pretty nervous about the Ty Lawson injury, but it won’t matter at all in this game. I do not like their long-term prospects, with or without Lawson.

Pick: North Carolina

(8) LSU v. (9) Butler: It’s weird that Trent Johnson is at LSU because I can’t think of two more different cultures than Stanford and LSU, not that the basketball coaches have anything remotely to do with academics or anything else within the university. I was surprised that Butler got upended in its conference tournament, but not surprised that they are back in the dance with a pretty favorable seed and draw.

Pick: Butler

(5) Illinois v. (12) Western Kentucky: Courtney Lee is gone, but this team is still tough and I don’t like this Illinois team. This is a perfect candidate for a 12-5 “upset” (of course, I’ve chosen three of the 12 seeds to advance, but whatever).

Pick: Western Kentucky

(4) Gonzaga v. (13) Akron: I don’t know what to do with this Gonzaga team. They have very strong guard play from Pargo and Bouldin. I like Heytveldt a lot. Gray can shoot as well as anyone in the country. Downs is tantalizingly talented and versatile. Daye has so much ability, but is rotten-peach soft. This team really should be in Detroit in April, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to do it. The only thing I know about Akron is that their coach used to be LeBron’s High School coach, unless he’s got another No. 23 hoop wizard, the Zips aren’t going to advance.

Pick: Gonzaga

(6) Arizona State v. (11) Temple: I’m unnaturally high on Arizona State. I love Jeff Pendergraph, even if he is a little stiff-looking. He reminds me of Elden Campbell (although not as tall) a little bit the way he holds his head. It looks like he has to turn his whole body to the side if he wants to look left or right. James Harden is a filthy scorer who will be a good NBA player, but he’s not at all what a good player looks like. That Taliban/Leprechaun-level beard he’s got going is sick and his eyes and teeth look like they’ve been spayed with movie-popcorn butter. But he’s an nice player, despite the shaky appearance. Glasser is a damn good shooter and, as evidenced by the game against UW in the Pac 10 Tournament, won’t back down when pushed. I know nothing about Temple except that I’m a little frightened of one of the cooler names in the tournament: Dionte Christmas.

Pick: Arizona State

(3) Syracuse v. (14) Stephen F. Austin: Syracuse is a very good team that probably feels like it’s been screwed with its pants on by the selection committee for the last two years by being left out of the tournament. Because of that, it makes sense that this team is hungry to make its mark. Because they’ve played so many minutes in the tournament makes me a bit nervous, but they’re young guys and should be able to get up for the games. They are also bolstered by what I consider to be the second coolest name in the tournament: 1950s rock n’ roll sensation Jonny Flynn.

As for SFA, I remember they had a 6’5 230 plus, wide receiver in the NFL who played in the 90s. I can’t remember his name, but I remember him. He might have played for San Diego. I’ll track him down and update you later. I’m sure you’re dying to know.

Pick: Syracuse

(7) Clemson v. (10) Michigan: This is the third of three games that I couldn’t pick right away because I’ve come to learn never to trust Clemson, but I don’t believe in Michigan. I like neither of these teams. However, Clemson beat the living hell out of Duke and I’ve got to respect that.

Pick: Clemson

(2) Oklahoma v. (15) Morgan State: If Blake Griffin is truly healthy, then this team should go pretty far, but as I describe below, I probably artificially inflate teams like Oklahoma.

Pick: Oklahoma

Overall Predictions:
Sweet Sixteen
  1. (1) Louisville
  2. (12) Arizona
  3. (6) West Virginia
  4. (2) Michigan State
  5. (1) Connecticut
  6. (4) Washington
  7. (3) Missouri
  8. (2) Memphis
  9. (1) Pittsburgh
  10. (4) Xavier
  11. (3) Villanova
  12. (2) Duke
  13. (1) North Carolina
  14. (4) Gonzaga
  15. (6) Arizona State
  16. (2) Oklahoma

Great Eight

  1. (1) Louisville
  2. (2) Michigan State
  3. (1) Connecticut
  4. (2) Memphis
  5. (1) Pittsburgh
  6. (3) Villanova
  7. (1) North Carolina
  8. (2) Oklahoma

Final Four

  1. (1) Louisville
  2. (2) Memphis
  3. (1) Pittsburgh
  4. (2) Oklahoma

Championship Game

Pittsburgh over Memphis

I’m not the least bit confident that this is what’s going to happen and I'm not happy with my choices. I hate when this happens. It’s not like I’m going to wager much on this thing, but I’d still like to feel a little better about things. I could say that this year is just a crapshoot and it’s impossible to pick because the teams are so evenly matched. I could say that and maybe that would be true. But the reason I don’t feel comfortable or confident is because I haven’t seen enough of these teams play. I don’t like putting Memphis in the Championship Game or even the Final Four, but I don’t trust Louisville at all. I can easily see Michigan State coming out of that region. Hell, UW could come out of their region, but they could also lose in the first or second round. I feel like I’m trying to put together some IKEA furniture here where I can line something up and think it’s right, then force it into place and split the whole damn thing in half.

Earlier this year I thought for sure that Gonzaga was a Final Four team. They really looked like they had all of the pieces, but then I saw the Portland State game and saw what Memphis did to them, (both games at home! Although the Memphis game wasn’t on campus, but still, it was in Spokane), and I just don’t trust them.

I run into trouble with the tournament and predicting other sporting events as well because my familiarity with a team is my curse. If I know a team and don’t see many flaws, I’ll pick them to advance or have great seasons. I did this with the 2008 Seahawks. If I know a team and like them, but have reservations, I’ll handicap them more severely. I’m currently doing this to UW and Gonzaga in this tournament. Granted, I have both of these teams going to the Sweet Sixteen, but they’re both probably capable of more than that.

An alternate version to this happens when I am not that familiar with a team, or dangerously “sort of” familiar with a team. I have Oklahoma going to the Final Four. I know next to nothing about them except that Blake Griffin looks like he is a strong candidate to be a Nougat All Star as soon as next year. At the same time, I completely dismiss high-seeded teams that I’m unfamiliar with, such as Illinois and Florida State.

The bottom line is that I have no idea what I’m talking about, but I like to talk it through anyway.

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