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The madness has officially begun! Just watch the NCAA Tournament promo and tell me you are not unbelievably fired up for one of the greatest times of the year to be a sports fan. I am going to breakdown the bracket from all angles, give you some sweet sleepers, games you can’t miss in the first round, all to help you finally win that bracket contest you have been trying so gallantly to for years:)
(Before we get into it, if you’re interested in a different way to play — compete for prizes in the CBS Local Bracket Challenge.)
TIMES FOR MICHIGAN TEAMS
All Games Thursday:
SOUTH REGION – #3 Syracuse Vs #14 Western Michigan (Buffalo, NY) apx 2:45 EST
Syracuse -12.5 Vs Western Michigan
EAST REGION- #4 Michigan State Vs #13 Delaware (Spokane, WA) apx 4:40 EST
Michigan State -14 Vs Delaware
MIDWEST- #Michigan Vs #15 Wofford (Milwaukee, WI) 7:10pm EST
Michigan -16 Vs Wofford
Who Goes Further MSU Or MICHIGAN?
The loss in the B1G title game was abhorrent for Michigan, horrid shooting, lack of focus and energy, complete domination by Michigan State in second chance points, and a general lack of ability to score inside which was their undoing.
The bottom line is it was the B1G tourney and not the NCAA Tourney. MSU is simply a completely different team going into the Big Dance then they were even two weeks ago and it would be crazy to think the Spartans can’t go on an epic run this March. Many of the nation’s top college hoops experts even expect them to do so and several have them winning it all. With MSU basically back to full strength they definitely have the talent, size, rebounding prowess, and coaching wizardry to make a deep run.
Michigan on the other hand is a more complete team this year than they were last year. On their run to the title game last year they had the best player in the country in Trey Burke and the inside presence of Mitch McGary, which this year’s team sorely lacks. John Beilein though has coached his squad about as well as anyone has in a single season in the past 5 years with what he has had to work with.
If Michigan can shake off the disastrous loss from the title game, this team presents matchup problems from all angles, save a truly dominant inside game.
It will take some fortuitous bounces as it always does, but Michigan’s path is an easier one then MSU’s. The Spartans as a #4 seed would have to play #1 seed Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen, which is one of the most balanced in the country and has a great chance to make a long run in the tourney. Michigan is lucky to have several key players that know what it takes to make a run to the Final Four, which is something that is immeasurable.
Stephen F Austin – Aside from the fact that their mascot is a Lumberjack , which is inherently awesome , this team comes in completely on fire and with the longest winning streak in the country at 28, save Wichita State, and can shoot the ball from all over the court. The Southland Conference champs are one of the better teams in the country in points allowed(21st), and score almost 77 a game, which is key for a lower seed to make a run.
The three guard attack of Desmond Haymon, Thomas Walkup, and Deshaunt Walker is a bear to contain. Their first round matchup against VCU, who loves to press , is a major disadvantage for Shaka Smart’s club cause the Lumberjacks are a walking press breaker.
Oklahoma State – Travis Ford’s team has their issues in February with the Marcus Smart brew-ha-ha, but have regained their footing and one of the keys for a ride through March is having a player that can simply take over and Smart can do that and then some. The Cowboys come in winners of 5 of their last 7 and the two losses were against Kansas and Iowa State, the latter a team I firmly believe can make a run to the Final Four.
The Pokes are one of the highest scoring teams in the country (80.3 per game), and seem to be peaking at the most opportune time. Possible third round matchup with Zona is music to Cowboys airs and they have the size and speed to contain the Wildcats attack.
St Joseph’s – All you have to do is look at the tape from the A-10 final against VCU and you can see exactly what this Hawks team is capable of. They faced a Rams team that goes to war with you and the Hawks had an answer for everything. Senior Guard Langston Galloway is a beat and scores almost 18 a night and the St Joe’s play some of the best defense in the country in late stages of games.
Phil Martelli is one of the more underrated coaches in the country in his ability to get the most out of his team .The Hawks come in with sky high confidence, winners of 11 of their last 14 and a statement win in the A-10 title against a proven team in March in VCU.
Harvard – Tommy Amaker has taken this team to the Dance three straight years now and his club last year took down the mighty 3-seeded New Mexico Lobos as a #14 seed and his team this year is even better. Harvard is a classic example about how fundamental basketball and pressure defense can bring you success.
The Crimson have two guys that can go on stretches where they simply don’t miss from the perimeter in Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers and the priceless community come March, experience in the NCAA Tournament.
TOUGHEST OPENING ROUND GAME FOR A 1-3 SEED
South Region – #3 Syracuse Vs #14 Western Michigan- The Orange are an extremely talented team coached by one of the games all-time greats, but have a propensity to completely underachieve in March and this year is likely to be no different. Even with one of the best freshman in recent year in the superb Tyler Ennis, the Cuse have issues of a drop dead scorer other than him when the going gets tough. Brewster Academy alum C.J Fair has taken over games at points this season, but has also struggled in big situations. The Broncos had a magical run to the MAC title and showed they can come back in a dire situation as they were down 18 in the Semi against a good Akron team. then they were able to absolutely destroy a good Toledo Rockets team in the final. Look for WMU to get off to a hot start and for the Cuse to be looking for answers early.
BEST OPENING ROUND GAME
West Region – #6 Baylor VS #11 Nebraska- The 11th seeded Cornhuskers get back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1998 and are coached by one of the best in the country that you have never heard of in Tim Miles. he has given his Huskers team confidence that the program has not had in a long time. Sharp Shooter Ray Gallegos and get hot from outside and Shavon Shields has been huge for Miles club this year on both ends of the court. Sophomore Terran Petteway has made huge strides this season and is dropping over 18 a game.
Scott Drew’s Baylor squad is one of the most athletic in the country and seems to be getting hot at the right time. The balanced scoring of Brady Heslip, Kenny Cherry, Cory Jefferson, and the ultra-lengthy 7-1 Isaiah Austin can be almost impossible to stop when they are all in tune. The Bears also can score in bunches in a blink of an eye and then force you to turn it over just when you are trying to get back into it. This should be fun from the start and very likely could come down to the last possession.
FIRST ROUND GAMES YOU SIMPLY CAN’T MISS
SOUTH REGION (MEMPHIS)
#5 VCU Vs #12 S.F AUSTIN- Lumberjacks winners of 28 in a row go against one of the best coached teams in the land
#3 SYRACUSE Vs #14 WESTERN MICHIGAN- Broncos have the recipe to break the legendary Cuse Zone
EAST (NEW YORK)
#5 CINCINNATI Vs #12 HARVARD- Can Amaker strike again?
#7 CONNECTICUT Vs #10 SAINT JOSEPH’S- Hawks come in super hot and Huskies can beat you inside and out.
#6 BAYLOR Vs #11 NEBRASKA- This is going to go down to the wire between two teams that never give up.
#5 OKLAHOMA Vs #12 NORTH DAKOTA STATE- Bison cause major matchup issues for the Sooners.
#5 SAINT LOUIS Vs #12 NC STATE- T.J Warren, T.J Warren, T.J Warren!! Oh did I say T.J Warren?
#3 DUKE Vs. #14 MERCER- Bears will give Blue Devils all they can handle.
TOUGHEST PATH FOR A TOP SEED TO DALLAS
West Region – ARIZONA- The Wildcats have a great RPI and a team that when hitting on all cylinders is scary to play against, but they are simply too inconsistent to really be taken serious as a Final Four contender. They have nothing but roadblocks on their way to a potential final four that start as early as their second game if OK State takes down Gonzaga. Creighton and Baylor are also two teams that could give the Cats potential fits in an Elite Eight game and don’t ever sleep on pesky Wisconsin, who might have the best offensive team Bo Ryan has ever coached in Madison.
Champion – FLORIDA- Billy Donovan might have the best defensive team he has ever had and this is a guy who has won two national titles with the likes of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer. The Gators have won 32 games so far this year and come in having won 26 in a row, and they are not just beating teams they are pounding them. They did have two close SEC tourney games against Tennessee and Kentucky en route to the SEC Tournament title, but it just shows that this Gators team is not going to let anyone beat them including themselves.
Donovan’s club never relents the pressure on both ends of the court and also are blessed with the easiest of the four regions as far as a path to the Final Four. Senior Forward Casey Prather is a tremendous leader for the Gators and can shoot it from all over the court.
Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II can light it up from downtown and are excellent with ball pressure on D. 6-9 Senior center Patric Young is a monster on the glass and a shot blocking madman. This year’s Gators might be the most balanced team Donovan has ever had and that is saying a lot with his teams that won back to back titles for him in 06-07.
Vegas Odds To Win The Title
FLORIDA 5.5-1 (bet $100 win $550)
MICHIGAN STATE 10-1
WICHITA STATE 11-1
CREIGHTON 32-1 (Dtm’s Mid Major with best chance to win it all)
OKLAHOMA STATE 40-1
IOWA STATE 48-1 (Dtm’s best value pick)
OHIO STATE 70-1
Dan Leach has a Ph.D in Bracketology and Early Roman Architecture; his middle name is appropriately ”Madness,” in the 2009 tourney picked all but one game correctly in his “American Samoa” bracket contest and was instantly named King of the island, and was recently was tabbed to play Brad Stevens in the upcoming film “The Butler Almost Did It” chronicling the Bulldogs magical run to the National Title game in 2010 against Duke.