Okay, it's time to seriously examine the brackets. Every year this is our procedure: we look carefully, explain our criteria, and then waffle like hell. Since it's impossible to get it all right, we go round by round instead.
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Here's our criteria. We look for solid coaching, experience, an outstanding backcourt, good defense, and an ability to play slower at the end of games.
And here's our first attempt. We reserve the right to change our mind up to game time.
Is Kentucky unbeatable? No, of course not. Everyone has their Buster Douglas. The 1992 Dream Team lost to the Select Team in practice.
That said, no one has managed to do it yet. But Kentucky has left some openings. Despite the overwhelming talent, the Wildcats have allowed inferior teams to hang around and have counted on their talent to win out in the end.
That gets problematic now. So many teams have been in those situations and are battle-scarred and tested.
It won't be Hampton. We'd have been interested to see how NCCU would have done but the Eagles lost the MEAC tournament. Central's not good enough to beat UK, but they are good enough to push them some.
Cincinnati and Purdue should be a very competitive game as befits an 8-9 matchup,
That's always a tough game but we'll take Purdue based on defense. Also Mick Cronin is out for the year so his assistant has run the show.
Purdue will win and will play very hard against UK but it won't be enough.
In the Columbus games, we think that Buffalo can upset West Virginia. Why not? Bobby Hurley's kids gave Kentucky fits too. You know a Hurley team is going to be mentally tough and will play hard.
Maryland should beat Valpo but the Terps have a long and inglorious history of NCAA chokes. Still, we'll take the Terps here.
Speaking of NCAA pushovers, Texas gets Butler which has been anything but. Smart money is on Butler, even a diminished Butler, against a UT team which hit the skids for a big part of the season and barely made the field.
Tom Crean has had a rough time at IU which is too bad. We thought he'd be great and he still might be. But not this year. Wichita will shock the Hoosiers with intensity and hardnosed play.
Kansas has improved since the UK disaster, but how much? There is a great and half-forgotten tradition in American basketball and that's the Southwest/JUCO school of the 60s and 70s. It had nothing in common with the Iba/Oklahoma State tradition of slow, patterned basketball. A lot of purists (mostly white) saw it as a desecration, but proponents saw the future: a fast, running game with lots of breaks and defense designed to crush you as quickly as possible.
That's what UTEP (then Texas Western) represented, and New Mexico State was an outpost too. It's not like that anymore, but basketball is in the DNA at NMSU and Kansas better know it.
Wichita had a bit of that too and in a way, with Gregg Marshall, has reconnected to the old Southwest game. So while we expect KU to survive New Mexico State, if barely, Wichita is coming at them with a tsunami of pressure. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Duke will get the winner of Robert Morris and Northern Florida. Did you realize that the Ospreys are the only team from Florida in the tournament? That caught us off guard.
These are two unusually good 16 seeds but Duke should prevail over the winner.
San Diego State over St. John's. Why? Two words: Steve Lavin.
Eastern Washington is a trendy upset pick but for now we'll take the Hoyas.
UCLA doesn't really belong this year and Larry Brown and SMU will show why not.
Iowa State is hugely athletic, amazingly explosive - Clark Kellogg might indulge his anal fixation once again and call them as explosive as a baby's bottom. They'll slay UAB and might do it quickly. But they are capable of blowing it too. We just don't see it.
Davidson over Iowa. Iowa has been erratic and Fran McCaffery isn't our favorite coach. Bob McKillop is on the short list. Betting against him is not a good move. He's a great, great coach. One of the big mysteries every spring is why no one makes a run at him. Imagine what he would have done at Georgia Tech.
Gonzaga over NDSU. We called them the Maryland of the West, a take off of Lefty Driesell's desire to be the UCLA of the East. Instead, the Terrapins reflected his mercurial personality and ever since have generally underperformed in the NCAA Tournament (ACC and now Big Ten too).
Gonzaga might be something special, but it has a tendency to come up short. Just not yet.
Villanova will thump Lafayette. Moving on...
State and LSU should be fun but State's potential is huge. You could put them down as a darkhorse because the Pack could make a deep run.
We'll go with Northern Iowa over Wyoming though Larry Nance Jr. is a fun player and Louisville over Irvine.
Everyone is picking Dayton as the home team but you know what? There's a lot to be said for the unifying effect of getting screwed. We're going with the spudsters: Boise State will fry Dayton.
And then lose to Providence.
Oklahoma will knock off Albany.
Brian Gregory has been busy feeding Tom Izzo detailed scouting info on Georgia, not that he needs it. Michigan State to advance.
And in one of the most interesting games of the tournament, Virginia's immovable defense meets Belmont's bombardier offense. The one thing that Virginia doesn't necessarily do well is to cover really deep threes. If - and it's a big if - Belmont can run and chunk (and hit), Virginia could be in real trouble.
We say this having seen Belmont scare the crap out of both Duke and UNC. This is one of the great three point attacks in all of college basketball.
Cliff Ellis has had a great second (Okay third or fourth) act at Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are always tough. Wisconsin is way tougher though and Frank Kaminsky is a nifty big man. No upset here.
Oregon State and Oklahoma State: the Cowboys will win.
Arkansas better not fool around with Wofford. As long as the Hogs show up and play hard they should win. But Wofford is good enough to pull an upset here.
UNC vs. Harvard. Someone has a sense of humor. The Harvard bench should mock UNC by reading books. That would really be pretty funny, not that Tommy Amaker would allow it. Wouldn't matter. Barring a massive renewal of late-game stupidity, UNC will win. Still, we might get some useful cheers from the Harvard crowd.
BYU and Ole Miss put on a great show before Ole Miss won. Xavier awaits. We'll take Xavier, but it'll probably be tight.
Does anyone like Baylor? After years of watching stupid play at the end of games, we really can't expect much. All too often, Baylor comes across as Team Stupid. We'll go for the upset here.
VCU and Ohio State...if the Rams were healthy, we'd take VCU. But they're not. And VCU is a one-trick pony. Once you get past the havoc D, it's really not that hard to beat VCU. This is not a patient program and the NCAA tournament demands patience.
Arizona will certainly beat Texas Southern. If not, Sean Miller can go sit in his house in the desert and stare at the PAC-12 trophy all summer. Maybe it would eventually offer him some advice. We could start calling him Sean-uman.
Don't worry, Wildcat fans, it won't happen. Arizona will romp.