Hide the women and children. The Madness is quickly approaching. We are just hours away from what could be one of the more bizarre and entertaining Final Four’s in a long time. Thanks to Mark Few who put a small school named Gonzaga on the map, mid-majors are no longer a joke. This tournament is pretty stacked and that spells bad news for the higher seeds.
I don’t see a scenario that a number one seed pulls it off this season. I don’t know if it is because the Selection Committee is slipping or there is simply more parity in hoops these days (I like to believe the latter), but there are deeper seeds that keep rolling, rolling, rolling down the river (get up, ooo ooo, get up ooo ooo) at full speed. In fact, since Kansas lost Joel Embiid, I don’t think even a two seed has a chance. And this, my friends, is what makes The NCAA Tournament the best sporting event in the world.
Now, I’m not saying a #1 seed can’t win it, nor am I completely ruling out Florida or Arizona as the next champions. I’m merely trying to tell you that if you think Florida, Arizona, Virginia, or Wichita State have a clear road to Texas, you are out of your mind. I think that a 4 seed is going to win it and I agree with our Commander-in-Chief (said no one ever) on his final’s match-up prediction. So without further ado:
FOUR TEAMS THAT COULD CAUSE THE #1 SEEDS A LOT OF TROUBLE:
MIDWEST: the #4 seed Louisville Cardinals:
Remember these guys? They are coached by Rick Pitino the Elder and happen to be reigning National Champs. How these guys got a four seed is beyond me. At the onset of Selection Sunday, the “experts” had Louisville grabbing the last #1 seed after Michigan lost. Alas, sports experts are the new weathermen and are seemingly right 10 percent of the time. The Cardinals drew the 4 seed.
The Cardinals finished the season 29-5 but it was how they rampaged and ransacked the AAC in their last 5 games of the season that gives me reason to believe that these guys are ready to defend their championship. They started by disheveling SMU who was in the Top 25 at the time (incidentally, SMU is the biggest snub I can remember in a long time but like a nerd in an 80s movie, they aren’t going to the Dance). They then dismantled a Top 25 UConn Huskies team by nearly 40 points. In the AAC tournament they continued their domination with 61-point first round massacre over Rutgers. 61 POINTS!!! IN A TOURNAMENT GAME!!! I don’t care what conference you play in or what team you are playing: to win a game by 61 points against a conference rival in a tournament game makes you a powerhouse and a serious threat to cut down the nets in Texas. Next up was a 29 point win over Houston, and a ten-point victory over UConn once again to win the AAC Championship. This team has veteran leadership who have been through a Championship run before. They have a very tough bracket and a possible match-up with Calipari and in-state rival Kentucky, but they have just as good a chance as anyone to be back in the Final Four.
WEST: the #9 seed Oklahoma State Cowboys:
Don’t let the 21-12 record fool you. Oklahoma State is the best #9 seed in the tourney and may be better than most of the 7 and 8 seeds as well. They have a tough bout with Gonzaga in the Round of 64, but with all their cogs moving they should get past them for a showdown with the #1 seed Arizona Wildcats. I love Arizona as they are a perennial Sweet 16 pick in every losing bracket I have ever done (I believe my lifetime record is 0-72). They are beatable, however. Yes they are 30-4 and to win 30 games in that legit PAC-12 Conference says a lot about their skills. Three of those losses, however, came to NCAA Tournament teams. They were all close games but they still lost to Oregon, in-state rival ASU, and UCLA for the PAC-12 Championship. The inability to put away big-time regular season games leaves the door open for Oklahoma State to pull the upset.
We all know they have Ron Artest, Jr. (aka Marcus Smart), but let’s face reality, he’s also a stud. He and senior Markel Brown bring some serious game with the ability to score and the leadership to guide this team. They will give Arizona a run for their money.
EAST: the #4 seed Michigan State Spartans:
It pains me to say this. You must know how I feel if you read my piece on March 11 entitled “Let’s Party Like It’s 1999!” My Delaware Fighting Blue Hens would have been better off being a lower seed because they have a better shot against the 3 seeds than they do against the 4s. Alas, Blue Hen Nation will give the Spartys a run, but probably fall short. Trust me, folks, I hope I am wrong on this one.
The sad truth is that no one is playing better ball than the Big Ten Tournament Champion Spartans. They took down Michigan in the Championship Game with ease inevitably costing the Wolverines a number one seed. The 26-8 Spartans are on a 5 game roll and are really past the injury woes that hurt them midseason. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are two well-rounded seniors set to lead the charge. Tom Izzo hates not being in the Final Four more than any other coach and Michigan State has the tools to not just make the finals, but win it all.
SOUTH: the #3 seed Syracuse Orange:
Come on, what did you expect? This isn’t a pure homer pick though as I have valid reasons. The unfortunate dilemma for Cuse is that Billy Donovan has this Florida team cruising like a 75-year old on 95 South in Boynton Beach: taking out everything in their way. The Gators are the # 1 seed that I think has the best chance to win this tournament, but they are in a tough bracket. They will need to go through Pittsburgh and UCLA to make it to the Elite 8 and then Cuse to get to the Final Four.
Ok, enough about those jort-wearing, Budweiser guzzlers. Losing to N.C. State was the best thing to happen to my guys in Orange. This team had no legs left, I said it TWO WEEKS ago. Jim Boeheim ran with a seven man rotation all year and aside from CJ Fair, none of the others had played a full season. They simply ran out of gas. This was evident in the final 20 seconds of their first ACC Tourney game against the Wolf Pack. They were chucking shots that were hitting nothing but back board if anything at all. It was excruciating to watch, but what I saw was a team desperate to win and end the game because they had nothing left. Now, they have had a week to rest. People forget that this team was 25-0 and beat Duke. They have all-world freshman Tyler Ennis running the ship and looking to prove that he should be in the same sentence as Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. Any Cuse fan knows that Cooney is the x-factor. If he is hitting his shots, Syracuse becomes more deadly because that opens up Jerami Grant to run and slash through the paint. When Ennis, Fair, and Grant get rolling it energizes that 2-3 zone and then it’s all over for whoever Cuse is playing.
Now take it easy. This is not my Final Four prediction. You got to be nuts if you think I’m going for a billion smackers with Oklahoma State in my Final Four. But these four teams can present a huge obstacle for all of the teams they will face. I do think Louisville finds a way to repeat though… hopefully in a victory against the Ass Kickin’ Chickens of Delaware.
Enjoy your next two days of hookie from work, America and let the Madness begin!!!