Wednesday, March 30, 2011

7 Observations from the Tourney and Final Four Predictions

It has been one of the most memorable NCAA tournaments that I can remember with lots of upsets, cinderella stories and great individual performances. Here are 7 observations from the tournament so far.

1. Time to rethink the concept of Big 6 conferences in college basketball.. It used to be that the National Champion would always come out of a Big 6 conference with just a few exceptions. However in the last 5 years, a mid-major has made the Final Four in 3 of those years and this year we have two. I also think that the winner of the VCU/Butler game has an excellent chance of winning it all. It is time to throw the old bracket picking methodology out the window because the mid-majors have arrived and they are here to stay.

2. Maybe the One and Done Rule is not so bad. I have been a big opponent of the one and done rule because it seems to have made recruiting a "dirtier" sport. And while I still believe there is more cheating and "handlers" as a result of the one and done rule, I think it is actually creating more parity in the college game. While the superpower schools still get the best talent each year, they are starting younger and younger teams. I am a firm believer that it is nearly impossible for a team full of freshman to win the NC. It just doesn't happen. Kentucky will once again test that theory in the Final Four this year, but you will see by my picks below I am not banking on them to break the trend.

3. Basketball is the greatest sport in the world -- What I have always loved about college basketball is the strategy and "runs" that teams go on within a game. In football, it is very difficult for a team full of 3 star talent to beat a team full of 5 star talent -- let alone do it 6 times to win a NC. However, that can and does happen consistently in college basketball. A well designed strategy and severe hustle can often overpower a more talented foe. Strategies such as the full court press, excellent 3 point shooting or trapping half court defense can rattle more talented teams and lead to victory. VCU has proven it in 5 games during the tournament, each against a team from 5 different Big 6 conferences.

4. Kemba and the NBA Draft. If Kemba Walker actually goes 17th or 18th in the NBA draft as currently projected, I predict there will be at least 10 teams that will later regret that they passed on him. In other words, I can only see 8-9 guys that you should legitimately select before Kemba Walker. He is a winner that can score, pass and rebound. He can create his own shot and has lights out range. Yes, he is short at 6'0'' but don't let it deceive you GMs or you will regret it.

5. We should cut down the conference schedule by 3 games and add 3 more non-conference games. The inter-conference games are so much fun and help get a clearer read on the strength of each conference. This year, more than any other in recent memory proves that we do not have enough inter-conference games between top teams. Everyone, including me, thought the Big East was the dominant conference and it just was not true.

6. A Mid-Major could win the National Championship this year. Do not for a minute think that VCU or Butler could not win it all. I think VCU has a better shot than Butler but either one could do it. VCU's disruptive style and three point shooting make them a very difficult out in the tourney. I have watched them play in four of the tourney games and they are just a joy to watch.

7. NBA Skeening. Hmm, Can you think of any pro teams that would like a 6'9" Forward that plays smothering defense, hustles constantly and also shoots 40% from 3 point land (50% in the tourney)? Jamie Skeen has averaged 15.6 ppg and about 7 rebounds per game. He isn't currently projected to go in either round of the draft, but I am sure many teams will be eyeing Jamie after this tournament run!!

Alright now it is time for my picks. Well, I am sticking with UConn to beat Kentucky to make it to the Championship game where they will face VCU. I think UConn is on a mission, their 12 tournament "sudden-death" wins this year is just unbelievable and I expect it to continue for two more games. I think UConn will win a close one over the very scrappy VCU team in a very entertaining championship game.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bombshell coming tomorrow about Auburn Football

This is just a crazy story coming about about Auburn football. Supposedly four players will be talking about cash payments and other "benefits" of playing football at Auburn. Also implicate at least 3 other schools. Real Sports with Brian Gumbel is supposedly running this story tomorrow night. Sounds like they leaked it to build some buzz before the show.

If cash is this prevalent at so many schools in Football programs, then of course Basketball must be at least as dirty. That would imply a lot more cheating going on than just the "rumored" programs that we have all heard about.

Scary if true. Story on CBSsportsline

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Final Four Picks

Alright, the time has arrived for the annual Final Four Predictions. In a year of extreme parity I think there are 7-8 teams that could win the National Championship. Having said that, I am more confident in my Final Four predictions this year than I have been in many years. Of course, that is most surely the kiss of death. So without further fanfare here are my picks.

Ohio State
The Buckeyes have been solid all year and only losses both on the road in the rough and tumble Big Ten. Their combination of three senior guard/wings and the best Freshman in the country (and arguably the best big man in the country) is incredibly powerful. While the East is considered the toughest bracket, I don't think the Buckeyes will be tested until the Elite 8 because most of the tough teams are in the bottom part of the bracket. They likely will meet Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, but I think the Wildcats are over-rated this year. I expect the Syracuse Orangemen to test Ohio State in the Elite 8, but the Buckeyes will win a close game.

The Huskies run to the Big East tournament championship was very impressive. They are playing incredible basketball right now. If they can keep up that intensity for the next 6 games they could be the National Champs. Kemba Walker is the best player in college basketball because he does so much more than just score averaging 5 reb and 4 assists per game. Of course, when the Huskies need a basket, it is nice to have a guy like Kemba to rely on. However, this is not a one many team, Oriakhi played great under the basket during the tourney and he is a very consistent rebounding force. The emergence of freshman Jeremy Lamb is the real story for this team. He is extremely athletic and was a very dependable scorer during the tournament. He adds another go to wing scorer that makes it difficult to double team Walker on every possession.

Notre Dame
While I think Kansas is a very good interior team, I think experienced guard play wins National Championships. I think Kansas is going to lose to Louisville's pressure defense in the Sweet Sixteen and I think Notre Dame's experienced guard play is going to take them to the Final Four for the first time since 1980. This team has great, experienced guard play and has weathered the brutal Big East conference schedule with only 4 losses. It is a senior laden team that has been in the tourney before and understands what it takes to win. It will play its first two games in ND friendly Chicago in front of a largely partisan crowd.

In my opinion, Pittsburgh has the easiest path to the Final Four. Most of the top seeds int he Southeast bracket have big question marks. Kansas State has been a tale of two teams and it seems unlikely that they will string together 4 straight wins. Wisconsin is a very different team on the road than the home team that beat Ohio State and Purdue. Both BYU and St. Johns have lost key players for the tournament that drop them both down a peg. Florida comes from the weak SEC conference and has troubling losses to Miss St, South Carolina and Jacksonville during the year. In the end, Pittsburgh's experience, toughness and great combination of inside and outside play will be too tough for any other team in this bracket.

Ultimately, I wish Ohio State could play UConn for the championship as I think they are the two best teams, but the brackets did not play out that way. I think Pitt will be in the finals but ultimately lose to the winner of the Ohio State/UConn game. I think the OSU/UConn game is a pick'em game but I am going to lean toward UConn as the National Champion. I think Kemba is going to play a brilliant tournament and cut down the nets in Houston.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NCAA Champ will come from the Big East

I will be shocked if the NCAA Champion does not come from the Big East this year. The conference is just so much better than any other conference. Remember going into conference play, UConn was undefeated and won the Maui Classic, Syracuse and Cincy had only one loss and 5 other teams only had 2 losses. The conference had the best interconference record of any of the Big 6 conferences.

Sure they have been beating each other up for the past two months in conference play, but this conference is going to shine in the NCAA tournament. It won't have the best win percentage because so many BE teams will make the tourney, but I would be shocked if there are not at least 2 BE teams in the Final Four and mark my words, the champion will come from the Big East.

I think that UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Georgetown and Notre Dame all have legitimate shots to win the title. Beyond the Big East, I think the Big 12 is the second best conference with 2 teams that have legitimate title hopes, Texas and Kansas. The Big 10 is next but only has one legitimate title shot in Ohio State.

The SEC and ACC are neck and neck for the next best conferences and I do not think either conference has legitimate shots for the title -- maybe Duke but without Irving that is a very big stretch. I don't think it is a coincidence that North Carolina looks like it is playing a lot better because it is playing ACC teams. The ACC is down this year -- plain and simple.

The Pac 10 is pulling up the rear and frankly I think the Mountain West could be a better basketball conference this year.