12:20 PM- Xavier vs. Georgia… This is an intriguing match-up to me. I loved this Xavier team for most of the year. I think when 100 percent they are better than the elite eight team from 2004. They have more balance, they have more skill, and they have more depth. Lavender is the best point guard I have seen at X and when he is playing his game this team is so tough to guard. There have been several games this year (Kansas State, Virginia are two examples) when XU has looked pretty unbeatable. I could see X making a run to the elite eight.
However, I could see them losing in the first round as well. They have not looked nearly as good the last few weeks. XU fans are optimistic that Lavender is 100 percent, but even if that is the case will they be in rhythm and playing their best basketball at this time. Plus, if you ask Xavier fans which 14 seed they would want to play would they prefer Boise State, Cal State Fullerton, Cornell, or Georgia. I think the clearly answer is not Georgia. They have athletes that can compete with XU and they just made on of the more unbelievable basketball runs I have ever seen. They won four games in four days(two on the same day) to win a major conference tournament… clearly Georgia has the potential to play. I think XU is going to win by 10-15 points, but this game could easily go the other way.
12:30 Michigan State vs. Temple… Temple has been playing good basketball since A10 play began. They finished alone in second place and they won the A10 conference tournament. Christmas is one heck of a player for Temple and can get hot at any time. I have not been very impressed with Michigan State or anyone in the Big 10 for that matter. In fact you can make the case that night in and night out Temple is tempted just as much in the A10 as Michigan State is in the Big 10. If Drew Neitzel is not hitting, Michigan State could easily go down. This is one of my first round upsets.
2:30 Marquette vs. Kentucky… I honestly do not think Kentucky can win this game. Kentucky has struggled to win away from home all season, not winning one game against a team in the RPI top 140. I see no reason to believe that will change against Marquette. So why is the game interesting? Well, I do love watching Kentucky lose.
7:10 Kansas State vs. USC… This is the game everyone is talking about and with good reason. The obvious connection for the national media is Beasley vs. Mayo…and the obvious connection for those from Cincinnati is Walker vs. Mayo because of the North College Hill connection. However, I look at this game and merely think about what might have been. I see three of the top players in the country playing on the same floor, three players I could watching run the floor in Bearcat uniforms… catching passes from Devon Downey and catching an earful from Bob Huggins. Through all the great talent this game will be bitter sweet for me, because I’ll think about where UC could be this season and the chances they could have to win a National Title. As great of a year as Xavier is having it would have been an afterthought to where UC could have been this very season.
7:20 Winthrop vs. Washington State… No one else probably cares about this, but I went to Winthrop for a year and this game has some personal significance to me. Winthrop is not nearly the team they have been the past two years, when they lost on a great Chris Lofton shot against Tennessee in the first round as a 15 seed and last year beat Notre Dame in the first round. The Eagles lost great scorers like Terrell Martin and Craig Bradshaw as well as other valuable players. Their coach, Greg Marshall, took the job at Wichita State during the off-season. That did not stop the Eagles from rolling through the Big South Tournament this year. They won their championship behind a ridiculous scoring effort from Michael Jenkins. Taj McCullough and Chris Gaynor have the needed tournament experience to not be phased by this match-up. The Eagles do not score like they once did, but they still get after it on defense and they will certainly not be phased by anyone. Washington State, though a better team, is a good match-up for Winthrop. The Cougars are not going to score a ton of point, so with a good offensive performance from a few guys the Eagles could really challenge. I see Washington State pulling it out, but never count out that college in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
9:30 Arizona vs. West Virginia… Bob Huggins, Bob Huggins, Bob Huggins. We miss you Bob Huggins. That Alexander guy can play some hoops too.
9:40 George Mason vs. Notre Dame… Can the Mason magic be reborn in 2008. Let’s hope so, because no one wants to watch Harangody whine and cry for longer than one game. I swear the man has never committed a foul in his life and clearly he gets mugged every play. Words do not do justice my loathing of Luke… hopefully the George Mason magic will show him the door in the first round, for a second straight season.
12:25 Gonzaga vs. Davidson… A great match-up of non-major teams. People like to argue Gonzaga is not a mid-major…I say who cares. The fact is Gonzaga is a likeable team because they have built a winning tradition outside of the power conferences. Clearly the WCC is not the PAC Ten… so Gonzaga can claim to not be mid-major, but they do still represent the little guy every season. Davidson ran off 22 straight in a pretty bad conference… Honestly, I know they are good…I do not know how good. I have seen Gonzaga beat teams, but have yet to see Davidson do it. I think this game is a coin-clip, but gun to my head I stay with team that continually does it… Gonzaga.
12:30 Western Kentucky vs. Drake… The early Friday games are a time for great non-major match-ups. Western Kentucky’s Courtney Lee is the best player on the floor in this game…hands down. Drake is the best story in college basketball this season. They start two former walk-ons (one was the Missouri Valley Player of the Year). They ran away with what has been the best non-major conference since the demise of CUSA in the Missouri Valley. They play 3-2 match-up zone, but practice in man-to-man to really work on their defensive principals, and their coach gives them the green light to shoot as soon as the cross half court. I really like watching Drake and would love to see them be the latest Missouri Valley team to make a run.
2:30 South Alabama vs. Butler… Honestly, I think Butler is a better team. I also have said that I believe they were fairly seeded and believe this is as good of a first round match-up as they could have asked for. Another battle of two non-majors… it’s becoming the theme of the morning.
2:45 San Diego vs. Uconn… Uconn has often looked great this year. They also ran my Bearcats into the ground to end the season and kept their starters in until about 3 minutes to go (a move I supported because if UC lets a team get up by 50 much of it has to do with a lack of intensity… teach those kids a lessen). San Diego has looked dangerous. They won the difficult West Coast Conference as well as won at Kentucky. They have some very good players. I think Uconn ultimately prevails…but it’s an intriguing game.
7:10 St Josephs vs. Oklahoma… This one is interesting because it should be close and is a great upset possibility. Nearly everyone is picking it. I’ll be honest I did as well. I had no intention of picking St Josephs going into the dance and against any other 6 seed I probably do not. Honestly, I just have not been impressed with the Sooners.
7:20 Siena vs. Vandy… Talk about another great upset possibility. Vanderbilt does not win games away from home. Siena has played St Josephs and Syracuse well this year and already has a win over #3 seed Stanford. Vanderbilt is a team of shooters and teams of shooters are often prone to upsets when the pressure of tournament play comes.
9:40 Villanova vs. Clemson… I love this Clemson team. They are incredibly athletic. They have consistently looked good against UNC and Duke (they really should have beaten UNC at least once…maybe twice). They get after it, they force you into turnovers, and they have the bodies inside to really make it hard on the Wildcats. That being said the Villanova guards are always dangerous.
Everyone…the first two rounds are the most amazing days of the sports year. Game after game after game after game…finish after finish after finish after finish. I’m scheduling my lunch break around game endings and trying to get through work so I can get home for the next endings. My mini TV is out and ready to go for when I am not supposed to be watching basketball (as it has been since the 7th grade). This is perfection… this is what sports fans live for. Now if I could just get over the fact that for a 3rd straight season my Bearcats have failed to go dancing. Hell, they failed to win a game in the CBI… (I’ll have more on their season at a later date when I am in a particularly self loathing mood)
As for how I think the dance plays out:
Sleeper Teams (7 seeds or lower that can make the sweet 16 / elite 8)
West Virginia – I love the way they match-up with Duke and Xavier… the problem is they still have to get by Arizona.
Butler – I have them losing to Tennessee, but I could definitely see that game going the other way.
Indiana- Again I do not like their match-up with UNC and I really do not know what to expect with them…so there is no way I can pick them to win more than 1 game…but they are dangerous.
Final Four Spoilers (4 seeds or lower that can crash the party in San Antonio)
Clemson - I have them taking out Kansas. I just really like this Clemson team and have no reason to believe Kansas can perform in the dance when it matters.
Pittsburgh- I have them taking out Memphis… that’s two 1 seeds going down in the sweet 16. If they were not playing the elite eight game in Texas I’d have them in the Final Four. They are getting healthy…when 100 percent they can really beat you. Their run through the Big East Tournament was impressive. (Of Course the Orangeman made a similar run and were ousted in round one two years ago)
Southern California – They have so much talent and are pretty well coached… It is truly difficult to pick against them. They could give Wisconsin and Georgetown fits with their talent and athleticism.
Teams I Love (Teams I think are best suited for a run)
UCLA- First of all they have a great draw. I think Uconn could be a very challenging game, because Uconn is as talented as anyone, however, they have the weakest two seed and the weakest 3 seed in their bracket. I could see them matching up with the West Virginia/Arizona winner in the elite eight. Second, they have been there the past two seasons. This year they have more talent than either of those teams. They will be more prepared and it will be impossible to rattle them. And finally, they have one of the top 5 coaches in college basketball at the moment.
Georgetown- I loved them last year, I love them this year. In the end, last year Oden was too much for Hibbert. I do not see anyone that is going to be that way this season. I think Georgetown is built for March. Their offense may keep teams in some games, but they are one of the few teams that is built to score when scoring gets tough and the defense picks up. They run their offense because it will consistently get shots against good defense. I think the Hoyas are playing better defense than they have played the past two seasons.
Texas- They won’t be challenged in the first two rounds…I really think that. Then they get to play the next two rounds in Texas. That is a great setup for a run to the final four.
My Final Four
UNC, Georgetown, Texas, UCLA
UCLA over Georgetown