Thursday, March 20, 2008

"It's Business Time."

2008 NCAA March Madness Preview, Part Two: The Contenders...and 21 Other Teams

32. St. Joseph's (11): could very well lose to Oklahoma.

31. Kansas State (11): as you may or may not have heard, K-State's star, Michael Beasley, went to six different high schools (plus was home schooled for a year), which is, um, more schools than I've attended my whole life...and I've been in school seemingly forever. Anyway, Beasley is the real deal, and will probably put his team on his back for the USC game. Beyond that is anyone's guess. If you've yet to see him play: you're in for a treat.

30. Arkansas (9): fodder for UNC.

29. Temple (12): will be lucky to win a round.

28. Mississippi State (9): shout out to my buddy Viktor, who went to Mississippi State and now lives in Prague (and whom I've haven't talked to since Cuba in July for Jon's wedding). Vik, if you somehow see this: check your e-mails, dammit. We're trying to send you a wedding invitation.

27. Villanova (12):
will--hopefully--outlast Clemson.

26. Arizona (10): a disgraceful 14-loss season (with 4 or 5 loss talent) could, potentially, be redeemed by a nice run in the tourney. Or they won't give a shit (like they apparently haven't all year) and will flame out. Either or.

25. Baylor (11):
Great story of redemption here, as the program nearly folded after one player murder another five years back. They may or may not outlast Purdue.

24. BYU (8): I think they'll beat A&M. With that taken care of, let's move on to this: up until this year (2008!) when they relented, BYU's basketball team has, in accordance with Latter-Day Saints policy, refused to play games on Sundays. And the NCAA has been fine with this.

What? What??

Admittedly, it's easy enough for the committee to slot them into the Thursday-Saturday group (and not Friday-Sunday) but that's almost not even the point. How, exactly, are they able to call shots with the NCAA? This is baffling. While it's by no means exactly analogous what if a school from the Deep South refused to play a team with black players? Or anyone over 6'6"? Or black players above 6'6"?? I demand a 60 Minutes feature on this.

23. Kent State (9): losing to UNLV will be the worst thing that has ever happened to the school.

22. Kentucky (11): may surprise some. Though, word of warning, if you're keen on Kentucky making a deep run in the tourney, I'd like to point out that Gardner-Webb--who shocked the Wildcats back in November--finished a discouraging 16-16 this year...and lost by 12 to something called Lipscomb (which I believe is some sort of parasite...). Huzzah!

21. St. Mary's (10): My research indicates that St. Mary is the patron saint of running the break (note: not true). Saint Mary's is probably a bit fortunate to be here, having dropped 3 of its last 5, but they like to run, and run they shall...all over Miami. The Virgin Mother versus South Beach? Epic tilt!

20. Butler (7): like these guys, hate their draw. Fun fact: Butler Fieldhouse was where they filmed the state final in Hoosiers. [Douche chill]

19. Washington State (4): By my count, they opened 14-0, but are now 24-8, meaning they are a cool (literally) 10-8 since January 12. This doesn't exactly engender a lot of confidence. I'm warming up to a potential Winthrop upset.

18. Connecticut (4): As per my contractual obligation after this soul-crushing incident (from 1:05 - 3:20) when I was 15 and had UConn winning it all, I am not officially acknowledging UConn's existence, will say as little as possible about the team for the duration of their stay in the tournament, and will swiftly move on.

17. Xavier (3): boy, I don't know.

16. Davidson (10): move over, Gonzaga, there's a new sleeper in town...

15. Drake (5): can flat-out shoot. Love the Drake.

14. Georgetown (2): Robbie is high on GTown, whereas I kind of still hate them because of what they did last year (oh...they know). GTown seems to be the Final Four pick du jour (Wilbon and--I think--TK tapped them today on PTI) and while I'm all for Kansas bashing, I have to ask: seriously? You do realize that you're basically pinning all your hopes on Roy Hibbert, who, at 7'2", 275 pounds (and, according to, nearly four years old) is undeniably a superior physical specimen but, as a player, leaves a great deal to be desired. Case in point #1: against Rutgers three weeks ago, he scored a grand total of zero points. Case in point #2: he averages 6.5 rebounds a game. 6.5! He's 7'2"!! That's less than a rebound a foot! Unfortunately, this violates my ultra-strict "if you've over seven feet tall and can't average seven rebounds a game while playing starter's minutes, they should revoke your scholarship." Sorry, Roy. It's been real.

13. Vanderbilt (4): trendy of late (ie. since Monday) to pick them to lose to upstart Siena, but I think they'll prevail and then take down the winner of Clemson-Nova. Since that's really all I have for Vandy, indulge me for a second with one of my favorite anecdotes (alas, I can't remember where I herd/read it):

Harold Vanderbilt (who won the America's Cup three times) is out on his private (and, needless to say, rather substantial) yacht with a friend of his. As they're out on the water, they happen to pass an even larger yacht. Harold's friend turns to him and asks "how come you don't have a boat like that?" Harold shrugs his shoulders dismissively and replies: "what do I look like, a Rockefeller?"

12. Pittsburgh (4): Can't shake the feeling that the Big East tourney title was their championship game, but they could string together a couple of wins.

11. Louisville (3):
seemingly no buzz at all about this year's team, which is kind of confusing.

10. Stanford (3): I like this team, but I'm concerned they're not mentally tough enough to close out inferior teams. (The fawning SI article from a few weeks back about the 7-foot Lopez twins--which inexplicably dwelled on their fascination with all things Disney and instantly made me think of Rod and Tod in the episode where Lisa is President--did very little to disabuse me of this notion.)

9. Notre Dame (5):
By all accounts, they're not terribly interested in playing defense, which, I won't lie, is a bit of concern...but, hot damn, this is a fun team. Watch for Luke Harangody.

8. Tennessee (2): A shockingly athletic team, to the point where, against lesser opponents, I keep expecting them to use the bucket full of confetti gag, (And I love Chris Lofton's game...even if he does occasionally disappear for long stretches of time.) I'm just not sold on them. Additionally, aside from Wisconsin (see below), no other team gor jobbed more than UT. They were probably one win away from being a 1 seed (had they beaten Arkansas in the SEC Tournament, they probably would've locked it up), yet somehow ended up in the same region as the top 1 seed (UNC). Using the tournament S-curve, this translates into UT being the 8th seeded team overall, or the lowest 2-seed in the draw. And if they do somehow manage to make it to the Elite Eight, they get to play UNC in Charlotte. To which I call bullshit.

7. Duke (2): It's simple: if Duke manages to stay hot from outside for 160 minutes (or, possibly, as little as 130), they'll advance to the Final Four, even prevailing over a brutally tough UCLA team. If they don't, they won't...and could fall to anyone from the Zona-WVU winner onwards. Live by the three, die by the three. Whatever happens, this is a fun team to watch (Singler and Nelson, in particular), even if--and here I'm staying true to my 12-year old self--I still kind of hate their guts.

6. Kansas (1): I know, I know, you love this team, John Q. Office Pool. You loved them last year (lost in the Elite Eight), in 2006 (First Round), in 2005 (First Round), but not as much as this year. No way. Go for it. I dare you. I dare you. I dare you.

5. Texas (2): Ewing/Barber theory aler--oh, wait, I hate that damn thing. They're good. Really good...and I'm not just saying that because I got them 5th overall in my pool with Misha and Taylor.

4. Wisconsin (3): my dark horse final four pick. If you could not tell anyone, it'd be appreciated.

By the way, regardless of what happens in this tournament, it's totally asinine that Duke (no regular season conference title, no conference tourney title, 5 losses) is a 2 seed and Wisconsin (regular season and conference tourney title, 4 losses) a 3. I know, I know, the ACC is miles and miles above the Big Ten...except, wait, don't both conferences have 4 teams each in the tourney? Hmmmm. I blame, as always, those snobby Atlantic Coast liberals. Get over yourselves!

3. Memphis (1): great, great team (even if analysts are making the Dribble-Drive Motion out to be the second coming of string's not THAT complicated, folks). I'm still concerned about their FT shooting (this was not assuaged by their struggles down the stretch against Tennessee). Look here, John Calipari, you can argue until your Memphis blue in the face that improving your nearly-last-in-the-nation free throw percentage from 65% to 70% would only increase your per game average by 1.5 points (or that you shot 75% from the line during the joke of a conference tournament you guys were never in danger of losing for a second), but you still don't seem to get it: when you're up 2 (or down 1) with 8 seconds to play, this particular weakness makes you very vulnerable. Making it seem otherwise--and not to get too TMQ here--seems to be almost tempting fate. We'll see.

2. North Carolina (1): Under the NCAA's pod system (which seeks to minimize travel time for teams...because we all know how much the NCAA cares about its student-ath--LOL. Sorry, I still can't get through that with a straight face) UNC has an exceedingly favourable draw, with rounds 1 and 2 to be played in Raleigh, NC and Round 3 and 4 (should they qualify) in Charlotte....which is akin to me being in the tournament and getting to play rounds 1 and 2 on my driveway, then 3 and 4 in my backyard (i.e. super fair to everyone else). Whatever. If you're so desperate to get them to the Final Four, just give them a fucking bye until April 5th (which is only slightly less transparent).

But there's some (or, you know, "a lot of") pathos here, mainly: going scoreless for the last eight minutes of their Elite Eight game against Georgetown last year and blowing up my bracket in the process (IDIOTS!). If they do get to the Championship Game, it promises to be epic.

1. UCLA (1): I hate to bandy about silly sports cliches like "team of destiny," but watch this and this and tell me they're not. Go on.

Now, some might say they've simply been lucky, to which I respond: shut up. Typically, I hate UCLA, but this squad (with Westbrook, Love, and Collison leading the way) is incredibly talented and (maybe more importantly) resilient. As such, they're my pick to win it all.

(And, yes, I am deeply troubled that Bill Simmons--who apparently and inexplicably doesn't recognize Kevin Love as a legitimate low-post threat--also picked UCLA to win...but then doesn't Joe Lunardi offset The Sports Guy? Here's hoping...)

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