Its Tourney time, everybody! The greatest weekend in all sports is upon us. 64 NCAA basketball games in 4 days. This year’s bracket is loaded with talent from top to bottom, but the top 1-4 seeds are so strong that this year does not seem to be primed for as many upsets as past years (plus, Bryce Drew no longer plays college basketball). So without further ado, here is a short preview for the top four seeds in each region:
1. Florida Gators (29-5)- Last year’s champs are definitely battle-tested. Recovering from their only rough patch this year, the Gators dominated the SEC tournament; leading many to think that the Gators are gearing up into post season speed just in time. Florida is lead by All-Everythings Joakim Noah and Al Horford who both spurned the NBA, in hopes of a repeat trip to the Final Four and another National Champion.
2. Wisconsin Badgers (29-5)- The Badgers are led by Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor but will sorely miss the play of injured Brian Butch (dislocated elbow). Runners up to Ohio State in the regular season and tournament, the Badgers look to prove they are not just the bridesmaids of the Big 10. Wisconsin has lost three of its last six, but if it can win its next six, the Badgers will be dancing in Madison.
3. Oregon Ducks (26-7)- The Ducks are definitely not a team to slow down the pace. Oregon runs out four starting guards in a similar fashion as Villanova last year. Despite hitting a 2-6 rough patch in the middle of the year, the Ducks rebounded to win their last six and the Pac-10 tournament. If their hot shooting continues, the Ducks will be a difficult draw this year.
4. Maryland Terrapins (24-8)- Maryland turned around a dismal start to the ACC season to become one of the top teams in the league. The Terrapins are balance on the offensive end. There are five players averaging 10 or more points a game. Any team with that kind of constancy will be a tough match up, with opposing teams not merely having to stop one or two players from scoring.
1. Kansas Jayhawks (30-4)- One of the top two most athletic teams in the nation. The Jayhawks, winners of the Big Twelve regular season and tournament championships play strong defense and incredible quickness. Freshman Sherron Collins has proven to be a great court general for Bill Self and being able to dish the ball to the likes of Brandon Rush, Julian Wright and Mario Chalmers has eased the adjustment for the young point guard. The only question remaining is whether or not the “Curse of the Jayhawks” will return and once again knock Kansas out of the tournament early.
2. UCLA Bruins (26-5)- The Bruins were ranked number one for several weeks this season, but played themselves out of a number one seed by losing 3 of their last 8 and losing to Cal in the first round of the Pac-10 tourney. Lead by All-American point guard Aaron Afflalo, the Bruins are strong on the defensive front, only allowing opponents to score 60 points a game. A tough second game awaits the Bruins in either Gonzaga or Indiana.
3. Pitt Panthers (27-7)- The Pitt Panthers were finally able to beat a ranked team during the Big East Tournament, knocking off Marquette and Louisville. Before that, however, they were a dismal 0-5 versus top 25 teams. The Panthers feasted off of the weak, bottom dwellers of the Big East and must rely on the leadership of Aaron Gray to make any real effect in the tourney.
4. Southern Illinois Salukis (27-6)- The only “Mid-Major” with a top four seed this year, but have become a fixture, lately, in the NCAA tournament. However, the Salukis will have to adjust to not being considered an “underdog” this time around. So. Ill is not considered a threat to break into the final four, but you can expect that this experienced team will be a hard match up for anyone.
1. North Carolina Tarheels (28-6)- Young, fast, athletic, facemask. These are all accurate descriptions of the ACC champion Tarheels. Leading scorer Tyler Hansbrough has shown little ill effect from the new facemask he must wear after suffering a broken nose against Duke. Freshman Ty Lawson is one of the top point guards in the nation, Hansbrough is a first tier post threat and Brandon Wright and Wayne Ellington are each averaging over 12 points a game. (Oh by the way, that’s three freshmen and a sophomore). UNC is young, but are poised to make a big run in a loaded region.
2. Georgetown Hoyas (26-6)- Maybe the hottest team in America, right now. The Hoyas seem like a trendy pick to end up in the Final Four. With seven players over 6’9”, the G’town will out size any team in the country. Led by 7’2” Roy Hibbert, these mammoth players will present match up problems all tournament long. If the Hoyas can take advantage of the size, control the boards and clock, Atlanta seems like a real possibility
3. Washington State Cougars (25-7)- The Cougars will have to prove that their record is not inflated due to a weak Pac-10 schedule. This team came into the season with very little expectation and even just a tournament bid was considered out of the question. 25 wins and a number 3 seed are nice for coach of the year candidate, Tony Bennett, but the Cougars want to prove they can keep their improbable season alive a few weeks longer.
4. Texas Longhorns (24-9)- Texas is considered the best four seed in the tournament. The Horns will ride Kevin Durant as far as he will take them. The East is loaded with talent, but the Longhorns are still considered a threat to challenge for the Region championship. For that to happen, Texas must improve on the defensive end and get more production from Justin Mason and the players off the bench.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (30-3)- Greg Oden is big. Really Big. This freshman phenom leads yet another team full of youngsters into a top seed. The Buckeyes are riding a 17 game winning streak and are a team that seems to be matured way beyond their years. Oden anchors the middle of the paint on offense and defense. Fellow freshman Mike Conley and Daequan Cook are the beneficiaries of the attention paid to Oden and have taken advantage on the offensive end. Age no longer seems to be a concern in the NCAA anymore, so there is no reason to think this young team will be at any disadvantage.
2. Memphis Tigers (30-3)- The Tigers will be shocked to see how strong this region is, in direct opposition to how easy their Conference USA schedule was. Though the Tigers are athletic, many feel they have not been truly tested yet this year and many are skeptical about how they will adapt to this level of play. Memphis looks to extend their, NCAA leading, 22-game winning streak just a few more games.
3. Texas A&M Aggies (25-6)- Defense and Acie Law. These are two things that can get a team to the Final Four. The Aggies have been ranked in the top ten nearly all year and have been a constantly strong team. The Aggies excel on he defensive end and rely on Joe Jones in the post and Josh Carter from the outside. But A&M has an “Acie” in the hole this year. Law’s heroics and leadership make the Aggies a really big threat to get out of this region and into the final four.
4. Virginia Cavaliers (20-10)- If guard play is essential for a run in the tournament, then the Cavaliers have two of the best. RJ Reynolds and Sean Singletary lead the ACC regular season champion into March. The Cavs might have one of the deeper teams in the field, having10 players who average over 10 minutes a game.
My Humble (and surely wrong) Predictions:
Final Four: Kansas, Florida, Ohio State, Georgetown
Finals: Kansas, Georgetown
Champion: Kansas, 76-65