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.

EJSIC’s Big Ten Review & Preview

Come on down, Missouri!

In what has been a fairly lackluster start to the season for the Big Eleven Ten, perhaps the biggest news has been that the greatest ten team conference in the land is looking to add a twelfth team in order to make more money playing football.  This addition would of course affect basketball too, as the league would probably be divided into two divisions and begin a clusterfuck schedule similar to that of the ACC, SEC, and Big 12.  This author would prefer that the Big Ten pilfer Syracuse or possibly Rutgers from the Big East since those schools suck at football and probably always will, but Missouri seems to be the league’s first choice (assuming Notre Dame continues its arrogant tradition of football independence).  So consider this an early welcome to the richest conference in America, Missouri.  Let’s get into the basketball season review.

Team Assessments:

Illinois -The Fighting Bruce Webers have been a disappointment in 2009 and will have to step their game up in 2010 if they want to make their 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years.  Illinois already owns embarrassing losses to Utah, Bradley, and Georgia.  The Illini have beaten two of the three good teams they have played this season, overcoming a 23 point deficit to win at Clemson and handling Vanderbilt at home, before losing to Big Ten member-to-be Missouri in an 81-68 neutral court game that was never really close.  Their other wins all came at home against the likes of SUI-Edwardsville, Northern Illinois, Presbyterian, Wofford, Boise State, and Western Michigan.  Illinois opens Big Ten play on December 30 against blossoming basketball rival Northwestern, who Demitri McCamey beat on a runner at the buzzer in the teams’ lone meeting last season.  They will have to win that game and about ten more if they want to avoid the NIT.  Non-conference Grade: C-

Indiana -The Hoosiers have shown great improvement from last season, but they are still not what could be described as a good basketball team.  They have played a tough schedule, but they haven’t won any of the big games on that schedule because they lack elite talent and coaching.  Indiana is 5-6 with respectable losses to Mississippi, George Mason, Maryland, and Kentucky, and embarrassing losses to Boston and Loyola.  Their only win of note came against Pittsburgh, but like the Hoosiers, the Panthers are probably NIT bound.  Indiana will be hard pressed to win more than four games in the Big Ten.  Non-Conference Grade: C-

Iowa -The Big Ten’s bitch.  Iowa has been defeated by Texas-San Antonio, Duquesne, Texas, Wichita State, Virginia Tech, Northern Iowa, and Iowa State, and has no wins over any team you have ever heard of.  Coach Todd Lickliter seems like a good guy, but he may be in over his head.  The Hawkeyes are terrible and one conference win will be cause for celebration.  Non-Conference Grade: F

Michigan -Another disappointment.  This was supposed to be Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims’ breakout year.  Those two players will be in the NBA soon, and they are surrounded by a solid cast of shooters and defenders.  The problem is that Zack Novak and Stu Douglas’ shots are not falling and no one is playing defense.  The Wolverines have wins over Houston Baptist, Creighton in OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Detroit, and Coppin State.  Meanwhile, they have lost to all four Big Six conference teams they have faced (Marquette, Alabama, Boston College and Kansas) and managed to get blown out by Utah too.  It’s going to make the Big Ten look bad when this team finally gets their act together and beats a few top teams en route to nine or ten wins.  Despite being 5-5 with zero good wins, Michigan has the talent to make the tournament.  They’ll have a good chance to get a run going when they open play at Indiana on New Year’s Eve.  Non-Conference Grade: F

This guy just wins.

Tom Izzo just wins.

Michigan State -Tom Izzo’s team has lost to the three best teams they’ve played: Texas, North Carolina, and Florida.  They’ve beaten Gonzaga and no one else of note.  Goran Suton and Travis Walton graduating may have affected this team more than expected.  The team seems to lack toughness at times, and doesn’t really have a post player.  Nonetheless, they have one of the best coaches in the nation, and slow starts are nothing new in East Lansing.  The Spartans lost two non-conference games last season and ended up in the National Championship Game.  Don’t write them off yet.  Non-Conference Grade: C+

Minnesota -The Big Ten’s northernmost team had a ho-hum non-conference season;  Four wins over no-name teams and Butler, then three straight losses to Portland, Texas A&M, and Miami, then five more wins over nobodies.  They open the Big Ten season at home against Penn State on December 29 and will hope to win about ten more games and earn a second consecutive NCAA Tournament at-large bid.  Non-Conference Grade: C

Northwestern -The team representing the Big Ten’s nerdy private school is ranked for the first time in 40 years and is well on its way to playing in the first NCAA Tournament game in the program’s history.  Northwestern is not afraid to chuck up shots, and Micheal Thompson and John Shurna are each averaging 16 points per game as the team wins without injured star Kevin Coble.  The Wildcats have played five notable teams, losing to Butler and beating Notre Dame, Iowa State, NC State, and Stanford.  They are 10-1 with likely wins over Texas-Pan Am and Chicago State still to Continue reading

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.