One Way Street – NCAA Bracket Predictions

As my esteemed colleagues have done since the NCAA unveiled its bracket for the annual tournament championship, I too will be offering predictions. I’m guessing that’s all the introduction you need so let’s roll out the predictions.

One Way Street: I lecture, you take notes

East

There’s not much else to be said here that hasn’t been previously stated: Ohio State was awarded for being the best team all season with a killer bracket. North Carolina, Syracuse, and Kentucky are all formidable top 4 seeds, and tOSU’s potential second round match-up with all-time Cinderella George Mason ensures the Buckeyes will earn every game this March.

Potential Sleeper: Xavier. The Musketeers enjoyed a quiet season on the national scale, but do not mistake the silence. Xavier could pull an upset in the early rounds; in fact I’ve predicted them to defeat Syracuse in the Round of 32 in my bracket (for whatever that’s worth; i.e. not much).

Jared Sullinger

Player to watch: Jared Sullinger. tOSU’s all-world forward delivers Dyke-ism’s favorite tough twos. Quite simply, he’s a helluva player and the stronger he plays down low the more open (and more dangerous) the Buckeye offense becomes.

Winner: Ohio State. The Buckeyes have senior leadership, a good balance of talent, and one of the best players in the country in Jared Sullinger.

West

The West bracket is also balanced this season, though not quite at the level of the East. Duke, as the one seed, will be the favorite to escape, but San Diego State, UCONN, and Texas form a challenging top four seeds. But Arizona as a five, Cincinnati as a six, and Temple as a seven seed all poise serious threats who can make deep runs.

Potential Sleeper: Missouri. The Tigers are an eleven seed thanks to their woeful road record and struggles inside the conference. But what makes Missouri dangerous is Mike Anderson’s Forty Minutes of Hell style of play. The Tigers like to press and run teams to death. The system also produces turnovers and turnovers are a death nail in March.

Player to Watch: Kemba Walker. UCONN’s All-American showed up early in November with magical performances in Maui, and after a small stumble during the mid-season, Walker turned it on as the Huskies won five games in five days to capture the Big East tournament championship. UCONN goes as Kemba goes, and if a game is on the line in the waning seconds, he’s money.

Kemba Walker

Winner: Arizona. I’m taking an upset in this bracket. The Wildcats have the second best player to watch (and possible #1 NBA draft pick) in forward Derrick Williams. Williams poses a match-up problem for any team, and Arizona’s guards are just good enough to keep the Wildcats in ballgames. I think Williams is the deciding factor in a Sweet Sixteen match-up with Duke with propels Arizona onto the Final Four.

Southwest

Labeled as the third strongest bracket (of four), the Southwest boasts one of the strongest teams throughout the season in the Kansas Jayhawks. The other top seeds include Notre Dame, Purdue, and Louisville; all strong teams. The Morris twins lead Kansas as they attempt to wipe away memories of an early exit last season. The other top seeds all share an interesting similarity: small preseason expectations. Notre Dame was not projected to finish as high or as strong in the Big East after losing Luke Harangody. Louisville faced similar preseason expectations as it waited on a heralded 2011 recruiting class to arrive on campus. Purdue was a Final Four contender in August until Robbie Hummel tore his ACL again which accordingly dampened expectations.

Potential Sleeper: Georgetown. A six seed isn’t much of a sleeper, but the Hoyas struggled late in the season when guard Chris Wright broke his hand. Before his injury, Georgetown was rolling towards the top of the Big East standings. His return will provide help for teammate Austin Freeman. Then again, the Hoyas could be out in the first round like last season.

Player to Watch: Marcus Morris. The better of the Morris twins, brother Marcus has expanded his game from the smooth inside

Marcus Morris

hook shots to include the ability to knock down the three pointer in Bill Self’s high-low offense. Morris, often accused as dirty, provides the gritty toughness to succeed in March.

Winner: Notre Dame. I love the make-up of the Irish. They have experience across the board, and Ben Hansbrough has shown the ability to make tough baskets when the team needs a lift. The only thing that scares me is coach Mike Brey’s less-than-stellar record in the NCAA tournament, but the team plays good enough defense to survive.

Southeast

The weakest region of the tournament displays proverbial choke-artists, Pittsburgh. The Panthers last reached a Final Four when the tournament included eight teams. Some credit is due as the Panthers have maintained a good record and resume despite high preseason expectations, but in a season in which no team is truly dominate, Pittsburgh looks vulnerable. Meanwhile in this bracket, SEC regular season champs Florida were gifted a two seed while the Davies-less Cougars of BYU are the three seed and Wisconsin is the four. This bracket is perhaps the most wide-open of them all.

Potential Sleeper: BYU. I know what you’re thinking: How can a three seed be a sleeper? Technically, they cannot. But after BYU dismissed forward Brandon Davies for violation of the university’s honor code, the Cougars have looked beatable to the point where the national media has lost hope in them. However, they still have Jimmer Fredette, an electric scoring machine. Guard play in March can be a difference maker, and Fredette’s ability to light up the scoreboard is critical.

Player to Watch: Jimmer Fredette. The Cougar guard, as I just stated, is a scoring machine. Fredette has the ability to perform like Stephen Curry did in 2008 riding his success to a top NBA draft pick. Leave him open at your own peril.

The Jimmer

Winner: Florida. Even though the Gators were probably a seed too high, they’re still a good team. The lower half of the bracket is a little weaker than the top half, and I think SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parson spurs Florida into a Final Four for the first time since 2007.

Final Four

In one semi-final, we have Ohio State versus Arizona while the opposite side features Notre Dame versus Florida.

Ohio State defeats Arizona in a battle of future NBA forwards Sullinger and Williams. The Buckeyes’ balance is enough to put them over the top. In the other semi-final, Notre Dame continues their good form with a win over the Gators. Ben Hansbrough and the rest of the experienced roster put the Irish over the top late.

In the finals, Ohio State’s dream season comes to an end just like 2007. Notre Dame rides the wave of success to a somewhat improbable National Championship.

Some matchups always end up the same in the Big East

…in terms of teams that aren’t bottom feeders when they play each other. I had a strong feeling that Notre Dame was going to win tonight, and felt that this prophecy is the same every year. You might as well throw out the results of these matchups.

Syracuse

-always loses to Pitt, Louisville, Villanova
-always beats Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown, West Virginia

Pittsburgh
-always loses to Notre Dame, Marquette
-always beats Syracuse, Georgetown, Cincinnati

Villanova
-always loses to West Virginia, Georgetown
-always beats Syracuse

UConn
-always loses to Georgetown, Providence, Notre Dame
-always beats West Virginia

Louisville
-always loses to Georgetown
-always beats Syracuse, West Virginia

Georgetown
-always loses to West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
-always beats UConn, Villanova

West Virginia

-always loses to Syracuse, UConn, Louisville
-always beats Georgetown, Villanova

So don’t be surprised if you see several games follow the trends again this year. ESPN analysts apparently don’t notice this, so keep an eye out for yourself.

EJSIC’s Big East Review & Preview

From the Conference that brought you one of the best basketball games in history...

As this blog’s Senior Big East Correspondent (I’m pretty sure I’m the only Big East fan that writes on here), I’m proud to bring you the best Big East Conference preview you’ll find anywhere on the internet world wide webosphere. This season, the Big East has had a strong showing top to bottom in the non-conference slate. To date, the conference is #1 in RPI, and has probably been the best conference. As conference play begins this weekend, we’ll get to have a real look at the mettle of these teams when faced with programs more familiar with them.

Team Assessments:

Cincinnati -The Bearcats started off the season strong with impressive showings against Vandy and Maryland in Maui, capped off by a tough loss to Gonzaga in overtime of the Finals of the Maui Invitational in a game Cincy controlled most of the way. Cincinnati climbed up the rankings, but hit a two game speed bump against Xavier and UAB. Their defense has been stellar, holding all opponents under 70 points in regulation. Their style of play embodies the traditional Big East physicality and grit. There is good talent on the roster with Gates, Stephenson, and Vaughn carrying the torch. Cincinnati is still in good position to earn an at-large bid. Non-conference Grade: B+

Are the Huskies a "Coachable" group?

Connecticut -The Huskies of UConn have been good to date, but not great. They have a few good wins over William & Mary, LSU, and Harvard, as well as a close loss to Kentucky. They were beaten solidly by Duke after all of the “athleticism” trash talk. They’ve struggled at times against far inferior opponents. UConn seems a lot like a team that isn’t quite as good as its players think they are. I don’t think the players are the “coachable” types. There is talent, but not a lot of depth (very similar to Georgetown last year). Kemba Walker should be one of the better point guards in the conference, and Dyson and Robinson have been there before. Robinson still disappears too often. They’re not a very good passing team, so if you can get them into a half-court game their offensive talents are marginalized. If you let them out on the break, Walker’s speed and Dyson and Robinson’s athleticism will make you pay. UConn is still in good shape to get an at-large bid, but they are nowhere near the conference title contender they were billed as in the preseason. Non-Conference Grade: B-

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