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.

College Basketball’s Top 5 Teams Round Robin

In terms of the standings today, the top 5 teams are Texas, Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova, and Syracuse. In spite of the Longhorns’ loss at Kansas State last night, those five are likely to remain the same. Being that they’re the only “BCS” teams with 1 or less losses (BYU excluded), they’ve done a good job separating themselves from the rest of the pack. The question is, which is the best and worst matchup for each team amongst this group?

Here’s how I see it. I certainly am not predicting anything, but on paper it’s how I assess the situation:

Woah Mama! That's a big boy

Texas
Best Matchup: Villanova
Why: Texas is as big and physical a team as any. Villanova is used to those qualities in opponents because of Big East play. Unfortunately, Texas’s post players are about twice the size of their counterparts. Villanova has great guards, but Texas has great guard defenders in Dogus Balbay and Avery Bradley. Who does Nova put on Damion James? Coming from the wing spot, James is a gigantic matchup problem for the Wildcats. Both teams are great in transition and rely on their experience to keep composed.
Worst Matchup: Syracuse
Why: Texas is not a great shooting team or passing team. Those are the best ways to beat a zone. Texas has great size (read: height AND girth), but so does Syracuse. Syracuse’s two bigs aren’t quite as big as Dexter Pittman, but they are better conditioned and are pretty much as close as they can get in width to put a body on him. Syracuse is adept at getting back in transition defense and out in transition offense, similarly to Texas. Both teams have All-American candidates at the wing spot with Damion James (UT) and Wesley Johnson (SU).

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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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Grading the Early College Basketball Season

In the last week of October, we previewed six teams for the then upcoming season: North Carolina, Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Memphis. Now, a month into the season, I would like to hand out grades for the six teams. Each had different expectations before the season and they will be graded based upon those expectations.

North Carolina 7-1 null

Grade: B

Analysis: The Tar Heels entered the season with high expectations from the voters. However, the fans seemed to have much more realistic prospects concerning the young Heels. When watching Roy Williams’ team, it’s obvious to even a novice basketball fan that they are full of raw talent which makes them a dangerous team. Larry Drew II has stepped his game up and filled in for the departed Ty Lawson in a way some may not have expected.

Where the Heels have struggled the most this season is the turnover department where they average 17.3 per game. As also expected with young teams, Carolina has shown signs of not being completely able to put a game away. In the end, Coach Williams will mold the team into a dangerous group by late February.

Kansas 6-0 null

Grade: B+

Analysis: The preseason championship favorites have not disappointed early in the season, but they haven’t been the dominant team some may have expected. Their five games against inferior competition have been complete blow outs, but they did struggle against Memphis in St. Louis. To be fair, most teams usually don’t face such competition in the second game of the season.

The Jayhawks have seemed to struggle when All-American candidate Sherron Collins has been off the court. Tyshawn Taylor hasn’t been as consistent this season as Bill Self may like, but Marcus Morris and Cole Aldrich have been very stable down low. As with North Carolina, the Jayhawks have way too much talent to disappoint.

Syracuse 7-0 null

Grade: A

Analysis: The Orange are undefeated behind the steady zone defense of Jim Boeheim despite the departures of Johnny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Paul Harris. After losing their exhibition to Lemoyne, very few people would’ve believed the Orange had it in them to beat both California and North Carolina in route to the 2K Sports Classic Championship.

Can Syracuse keep up the early season momentum? It remains to be seen, but the next test is looming December 10th against another up-start group in the Florida Gators. With the zone defense and steady play from their experienced leadership, I’m betting on Boeheim’s boys to continue the good season.

Kentucky 7-0 null

Grade: B

Analysis: It’s very apparent John Calipari’s Wildcats are absolutely loaded with talent, but the mixture of holdovers and freshmen has yet to gel. Out of the seven games, only one was against a team from a big-six conference: Stanford, in which the ‘Cats won 73-65.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Kentucky’s “struggles,” has been the defense. Calipari has always trademarked his teams with strong defenses. Since the Sam Houston State game in which Kentucky gave up 92 points in Rupp Arena, they’ve only given up 63, 49, 65, and 57. So, it appears the talent-laden Wildcats are learning to use their skill and athleticism to create havoc defensively. We should learn a lot about their progression in the next two games when they play host to two top fifteen teams: North Carolina and Connecticut.

Wisconsin 5-1 null

Grade: A-

Analysis: As the Sensei pointed out in his season preview of the Badgers, Bo Ryan’s boys never seem to be the early season trendy pick, yet they always find away to finish in the top three of the Big 10. Their lone loss came to Gonzaga in Hawaii which isn’t a bad loss at all. They now boast two wins over talented ACC squads in Maryland and Duke (the latter which helped the conference win its first ever ACC/Big 10 challenge).

Statistically, the Badgers are strong defensively as they usually are. One obvious weakness so far this season has been the three-point shooting where they are a hair above 29%. Expect Wisconsin to continue its solid play throughout the season and be a tough out in March.

Memphis 4-1 null

Grade: B+

Analysis: No one anticipated the Tigers to be major contenders this season with the departure of John Calipari and leading scorer Tyreke Evans, but maybe they’re better than originally expected. The Tigers gave the number one Jayhawks everything they wanted in St. Louis before eventually falling by two points. Duke transfer Elliot Williams and JUCO signee Will Coleman have provided solid play for first year head coach Josh Pastner.

Two concerns stick out to me. The first is Wesley Witherspoon. He was basically non-existent in the Kansas game and he’s too talented to disappear at big times. The Tigers need the versatility he provides. The second is how much do we take from the Kansas game? Are the Tigers legitimate or did Kansas have a night off? I think it’s a mixture of both, but until Memphis beats a quality opponent (and they have plenty of chances with Tennessee, Syracuse, and Gonzaga left on the schedule), they’ll have to settle for being a fringe top 25 team.

Overall, the college basketball season has been pretty good so far. It’s had March-like upsets and quality play which can be uncharacteristic of early season basketball. We should all continue to look forward to the remaining non-conference games before the rivalries start in January and February.