Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March Madness: A Quick Overview

By Jean Neuberger

Finally, we've arrived at March Madness.

As millions of us scramble to pencil in our brackets and plan ways to sneak in a radio or TV during work, here's a quick rundown on what I see before the Madness really kicks into gear.

TOUGHEST REGION: East

Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Kentucky are the top four seeds in this region. Ouch. Whoever gets out of this region will definitely be battle tested. Ohio State, assuming they do what all top seeds have done before them and win their first round game, will not have an easy task with either George Mason or Villanova. North Carolina might have all they could handle from Washington, who is fresh from winning the Pac-10 tournament in impressive fashion. Perhaps the real darkhorse in the field could be Xavier, who's historically been an extremely tough out and is coming off a great season in a solid Atlantic 10 this year. No doubt about it, the East is the Beast.

UPSET SPECIAL: (13) Belmont over (4) Wisconsin

When I saw Belmont as a 13 seed, I immediately thought "underrated." They re incredibly deep, running a 10-man rotation where every player plays under 25 minutes. The Bruins have had close calls in tournament play before and this year, played both Vanderbilt and Tennessee tough, while dominating their conference. Belmont is lethal behind the three-point arc, which makes them especially dangerous for a Wisconsin team that takes slow basketball to all new levels. If Belmont is hitting early, the Badgers could be in for a long day and a quick exit.

Also, when did a top 25 team get placed as a 12-seed in the tournament? Watch out for the Aggies of Utah State. Kansas State must've done something horribly wrong to the search committee to have drawn that assignment.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jimmer Fredette, BYU

Who else, right? The Jimmer has been a one man wrecking crew for the Cougars this season in becoming arguably the best player in college basketball. What he's been able to do for BYU this season is nothing short of awesome. However, there's more than his play that makes him the one to watch. With the suspension of Brandon Davies putting a serious crimp into BYU's tournament aspirations, the pressure is on Fredette more than anyone else in this tournament to succeed. Sure, Ohio State and Kansas are favorites and their players will feel the spotlight on them every game. But no team depends on one player like the Cougars do Jimmer.

FOR THE FIRST ROUND, THE DOUBLE-DIGIT SEED I WOULD NOT WANT TO FACE IS: Missouri

Remember UAB over Kentucky a few years ago? Mike Anderson's frenetic style of play, taken from Nolan Richardson's "40 Minutes of Hell," is tolerable for most coaches in January, or even February. But come tournament time, facing this kind of intense up-tempo play is the last thing you want to run up against, especially when Anderson's team s rested. Since becoming a head coach, Anderson is 4-1 in first round games. I wouldn't be surprised if Missouri made it 5-1 after this weekend. The Tigers could put a real scare into UConn, as well.

THE FINAL FOUR PICKS

Ohio State (over UNC), Kansas (over Purdue), Pittsburgh (over St. John's), and in Butler-esque fashion, San Diego State (over Duke).

THE WINNER

Ohio State over Kansas. Like many others, I have to pick the team that not only looks the most complete, but has also been the most consistent. In both cases, the Buckeyes have been that team this season, so I'm going with Thad Matta's group.

Good luck to everyone on their brackets, and let's get this thing underway!

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