2012 NCAA Tournament Preview:
It’s odd watching the “bracketologists” continue to only pick the #1 seeds year after year to make the NCAA Final Four. Every year we see teams seeded lower (as in the teens and what not) make runs and knockout #1’s like it is the ones are going out of style. As an avid March Madness fan, I enjoy doing the same as all us other amateur “bracketologists” and pick against those “experts”. So like the masters of March Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Andy Katz, Joe Lunardi, etc…I will give you my preview for the tourney this year:
A region full of a lot of good teams and then one superb team. The problem, a superb team can easily be defeated by a good team, especially when the team will be forced to play three games against very good teams. This regions features tough match-ups from 1-11 and in the end, it will take a toll on the higher seeded teams.
The favorite: #1 Kentucky…the Wildcats lost one game, at Indiana on a buzzer three-pointer. While the team looks unbeatable, we must harken back to a 2009-2010 Kentucky team which seemed to have far too much talent for its own good. A defensive mindset and unselfishness make this year’s team more tournament built.
The Dark Horse: #10 Xavier…you might not think too highly of the #10 seeded Musketeers, but they have top 20 potential they exhibited early this year. They beat Vanderbilt at Memorial Coliseum, Purdue, and Cincinnati. If the Muskies play to their fullest potential, lookout.
The Cinderella: #12 Virginia Commonwealth…the team I was patronizing to be an at-large bid won the Colonial and removed all doubt. I feel they deserved this spot after they went to the Final Four as an 11 last year.
The Most Intriguing First Round Game: #2 Duke versus #15 Lehigh…The Patriot League Champs are not the slouches you might think. If Duke goes cold from behind the 3-point line…
The Upset to Pick: #12 VCU over #5 Wichita State…28-6, no bad losses, 3-point shooting? That’s a tough 12 seed.
The Team We’ll see in New Orleans: #3 Baylor…the Bears played their best basketball in the Big-12 tournament and suddenly Perry Jones III is looking like the lottery pick he could be. If they play like they did against Kansas in the Big-12 semi-finals then the Bears are the best team in this region…yes, sorry John Calipari.
Missouri can stroll all the way to Phoenix and the Elite Eight in this one. The toughest match-up the Tigers should face is #7 Florida in the bottom-half. The top is a different story.
The Favorite: #1 Michigan State...Missouri has an easy road, but the Spartans are battle tested and Izzo turns it up for Tourney time.
The Dark Horse: #7 Florida…The Gators have been in the top 20 a lot this year. They dropped to a #7 relatively unexpectedly. If they beat Missouri, they can easily make it to the Elite Eight. If the Gators stroke the 3, they are an elite team…if they don’t they are SEC bottom-feeders.
The Cinderella: #12 Long Beach State…this team dominated the Big West and played a strong non-conference schedule (and won many of those games). Two qualities which many double-digit seeds don’t possess.
The Most Intriguing First Round Game: #6 Murray State versus #11 Colorado State…The Racers pranced through a softer schedule while the Rams battled through a gauntlet of tough teams to be an at-large. Murray State has to prove they have earned a six seed and Colorado State is a team against which they can do it.
The Upset to Pick:#12 Long Beach State over #5 New Mexico…New Mexico may have been a little overvalued as a #5 and Long Beach State may have been undervalued at a #12. These two teams are even…and the 49ers may actually be more talented.
The Team We’ll see in New Orleans: #1 Michigan State…Missouri has great guard play and the Spartans will have to fight through three tough games not matter who they play, but I love Draymond Green and it is nearly impossible to go against Izzo in March.
In my mind, this region has a lot of talent on four teams and that’s it. #1, #2, #5, and #6 are the players in this one.
The Favorite: #1 Syracuse…the Orange were exposed by Cincinnati in the Big East semi-finals, but the talent won’t leave because of a second loss. The Orange are deep and Dion Waiters is underrated.
The Dark Horse: #6 Cincinnati…Just like the Gators, UC can get extremely lethal from 3-point range. Nothing spells danger in the NCAA Tournament like a good 3-point shooting team which gets hot. Cincy can get erratic (Georgetown in the Big East Tournament and Marquette at the end of the year), but they won both those games. Tough defense and the ability to create turnovers
The Cinderella: #10 West Virginia…I love the toughness the Big East teams acquire, but sometimes the conference wears teams down as well…we’ll see which way it was for the stumbling Mountaineers who have one of the nation’s best players in Kevin Jones.
The Most Intriguing First Round Game: #5 Vanderbilt versus #12 Harvard…the mental mêlée stacks a streaking Vandy team against a Crimson with a huge chip on its shoulder. Begin!
The Upset to Pick: #6 Cincinnati over #3 Florida State…It’s tough to assume both these teams will make it to the second round, but they should and the Noles may be a little overrated just like the bulk of the ACC…two wins over UNC makes me cringe at that statement.
The Team We’ll see in New Orleans:#5 Vanderbilt…Syracuse has talent, but is not built to beat a sharp-shooting John Jenkins who deserved to be SEC player of the year, a real star in Jeffery Taylor, and a healthy Festus Ezeli.
A region which features two outstanding teams, three overrated 3, 4, 5 seeds, and dangerous low seeds could make for some interesting games.
The Favorite: #2 Kansas…first non 1 seed to be a favorite, but UNC has shown a lot of weakness and little dominance over the year. I love Kansas’s heart which is fueled by star forward Thomas Robinson.
The Dark Horse: #7 St. Mary’s…perhaps undervalued at a #7, but that is due to teams making surprise runs in conference tournaments (Cincy, Vandy, New Mexico, and even Louisville) the Gaels are 27-5 and have a distinct absence of bad loss.
The Cinderella: #14 Belmont…perhaps the best thing going for Belmont is they got placed in the Midwest. The #14 Bruins may actually be the best team in Columbus for its foursome.
The Most Intriguing First Round Game:#8 Creighton versus #9 Alabama…no one wants to play UNC in the second round, but these teams got the privilege. Both can prove worthy and this is a game which could see many many overtimes.
The Upset to Pick: #14 Belmont over #3 Georgetown…The Hoyas aren’t as good as a 3-seed (or at least were not at points in the regular season). Belmont is a team which has always fought hard in the first round and I think the Bruins may actually be better than the Hoyas (gasp!!)
The Team We’ll see in New Orleans: #2 Kansas…North Carolina has too much a chance of losing with the lack of ability behind the two big guys and absolutely nothing behind Kendall Marshall. Lack of depth dooms the Tar Heels and the Jayhawks fight through an intriguing region.
In New Orleans:
#1 Michigan State versus #3 Baylor: The Bears have a distinct athletic advantage in this game, but no team plays better fundamentally than Sparty. Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III can shut down Draymond Green and Derrick Nix, but the wise Spartan big mean will go right at the less bulky Bears and get them into foul trouble early. Also, Tom Izzo pleads that his team keeps Brady Heslip from shooting and makes Pierre Jackson shoot instead of drive. Thus Michigan State out smarts the far more athletic Bears on the way to the Finals….Michigan State 66, Baylor 62
#5 Vanderbilt versus #2 Kansas: Vandy surprised its way to this point, but no longer as the Final Four is where things get real. Luckily for the Commodores, they are forreal. John Jenkins shooting will keep Vandy in this one and Festus Ezeli can hold down Withey. The only problem is there is too much down low for Ezeli to handle as Thomas Robinson (the Jayhawks finest) also lurks in the paint. Unlike the softer, mid-range and turnover focused Orange of Syracuse, Kansas will be able to bully its way past Vanderbilt…Kansas 83, Vanderbilt 72
#1 Michigan State versus #2 Kansas: Michigan State finds itself in a similar situation as the Final Four match-up with Baylor against a team which seems too athletic for its own good. The difference is that Kansas has big guys who are able to move their feet and play defense without getting over-aggressive (without fouling). Two of the most valuable players in the country would be matched up with each other in Draymond Green and Thomas Robinson. The difference, Nix bodies up Withey and Draymond Green holds down Robinson and vice versa to make this a guard-on-guard game which Kansas has enough of an edge in to come out victorious…Kansas 86, Michigan State 83 OT.