Thursday, March 21, 2013

NCAA Tournament Bracket: Picking and Grinning

By Jeffrey Boswell

Can Rick Pitino lead Louisville to another Final Four?

The Cards are the tournament's No. 1 seed, and it's no secret that Pitino's goal is to win his second national championship. He's laid that card on the table, which is quite different that laying the wife of an equipment manager on the table, which he's also done.

Louisville was rewarded for the overall No. 1 seed with placement in the bracket's toughest region, the Midwest, which boasts Duke, Michigan State, a 30-4 Memphis team, and a Saint Louis team that no one wants to face.

Despite playing in Lexington, home of the Kentucky Wildcats, it won't be "one and done" for the Cardinals. They'll emerge from Lexington and face Saint Louis in the Sweet 16 and narrowly advance, but will fall to Michigan State and Tom "H to the" Izzo in the Midwest Final.

Which No. 1 seed is most vulnerable to an upset?

Gonzaga. It's hard to discount a 31-2 record and a team that features big man Kelly Olynyk, but let's face it, Canadian centers were made for hockey, not basketball. And, if you need more reasoning based on no science or statistics whatsoever, recent history suggests the Bulldogs are more dangerous as a lower seed.

Gonzaga reaches the Sweet 16, but falls to Wisconsin.

Is Duke, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, really that much more dangerous with Ryan Kelly?

As slow, white, good-shooting players go, Kelly is the slowest, whitest, and best-shooting of the tournament. And he is vital to the Blue Devils' championship hopes. Duke lives and dies by the three-pointer, and Kelly only accentuates their prowess in that respect. Also, Kelly's inside presence should take some pressure off of Mason Plumlee, who boasts a total of zero offensive moves in his repertoire. Plumlee does have a promising pro career awaiting, because if there's one thing the NBA needs, it's another Nick Collison.

Duke faces a tough second-round game either against Creighton and scoring machine Doug McDermotte, or a rugged Cincinnati team which finished ninth out of what I believe used to be 27 teams in the Big East. Assuming they clear that hurdle, Duke would likely see an always-dangerous Michigan State team in the Sweet 16.

The Devils can smack the floor all they want, but they don't play defense, and that will cost them against MSU in the round of 16.

Assuming seeds hold, who has the toughest round of 32 matchup, South No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 North Carolina, or East No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 8 North Carolina State?

For Christ's sake, another UNC-Kansas matchup? That's good news for CBS, but bad news for the Tar Heels. As a team, the Heels are playing some of their best ball; unfortunately, James Michael McAdoo is not, and you can't beat Kansas without an inside presence.

It could be double-trouble for UNC against Kansas: they could fall behind by 28, and Roy Williams may black out.

On the other hand, the Wolfpack could present a problem for the Hoosiers. N.C. State is an athletic bunch with a solid backcourt in Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood. If the 'Pack can make a concerted effort to pound the ball inside and get Cody Zeller in foul trouble, they have a chance. Plus, it's the 20th anniversary of N.C. State's national championship year. It's possible Jim Valvano may be looking down upon the Wolfpack. It's more possible that the only Italian presence for the 'Pack may be the wet noodle with which they try to whip their opponents.

Can New Mexico win the West and make it to the Final Four?

It's possible. The Lobos are coached by Steve Alford, who played for Bobby Knight at Indiana. Alford has instituted Knight-like principles at New Mexico, and has done so without mental or physical intimidation, assault, profanity, verbal degradation, or red sweater vests.

But the Lobos are not Final Four material. It's hard to put stock in a team that scored only 34 points in a January 26th loss at San Diego. Plus, a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Ohio State and apple-cheeked guard Aaron Craft, who leads a defensively-disciplined and tournament-tested squad, stands in the way.

Will a No. 2 seed falls to a No. 15 seed this year?

It won't happen this year. In fact, all four No. 2 seeds (Duke, Ohio State, Georgetown, and Miami) should win by 23 or more.

If I had to guess, I'd say the highest seed to fall in their first game is a No. 4 seed. I'm going with No. 13 South Dakota State over No. 4 Michigan, 72-69. I'll take a Jack Rabbit over a Wolverine any day, and so will most women.

What about the East Region?

Indiana is the region's No. 1 seed, but seems vulnerable. On several occasions this season, the Hoosiers have appeared to be on the cusp of establishing themselves as college basketball's elite team. However, they seem to falter on these occasions.

That's why my pick in the East is Miami, the ACC regular-season and tournament champs. The Hurricanes have a dynamic backcourt in Shane Larkin, Durand Scott, and Trey McKinney Jones, plus they have a solid inside game, and a coach who's yet to be investigated by the NCAA. In addition, the Hurricanes have the best athletic boosters in the nation, as well as the best athletic boosters in the penitentiary.

Is there a secret to predicting the Final Four?

There used to be. Now the secret's out. Here's the formula: the sum of the seeds of the Final Four teams should be greater than 4 and less than 23.

Picks for the Elite 8?

Midwest: Louisville, Michigan State

West: Wisconsin, Ohio State

South: Virginia Commonwealth, Florida

East: Indiana, Miami

Final 4?

Michigan State, Ohio State, Florida, Miami

Champion?

Miami over Michigan State

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