Friday, March 20, 2009

The Madness is Upon Us

Man, is there anything better than this day, all across the country? I mean, March Madness is the event that attracts the casual, or as I like to describe them, the "female" fan more than any other sporting event we got, except for perhaps the Superbowl, which for a one-time event has the most cache among the chicks of the country I would think. But pretty much everyone loves March Madness, from the old dude in the mailroom in the basement of my office building, to Hammer Wife who couldn't tell you the difference between a bounce pass and a free throw, and even to the younger generation who fill out brackets for their parents' office pools, etc. And these first couple of days, they just can't be beat in terms of non-stop excitement, can they? 16 awesome games a day for Thursday and Friday....damn. If ever there was a day that makes me jealous of those among you who get to live in Las Vegas year-round, this is the day.

I actually like my brackets this year, moreso than in most years. Unlike in most years, this year I found myself going with a general theme, whether I did so consciously or not, of consistently picking winners from those teams that have played the most other strong competition throughout this entire season. This means focusing primarily on the Big East and the ACC teams who have performed the best over a long schedule riddled with quality competition, while generally trying to avoid the Big 10 and Pac-10 teams that in some cases didn't face a truly great opponent all season long. In the Midwest Regional, I like most of the chalk, with Louisville, Wake Forest and the always excellently-coached Michigan State making my Sweet 16, but I'm throwing in a gritty West Virginia team to upset a very young Kansas squad in the Round of 32, as WVU always seems to be hanging around after a game or two in the tournament lately, don't they? In fact, I'm picking WVU to upset Michigan State in the Sweet 16 and make a surprise appearance in the Elite 8, where I have them squaring off with conference foe Louisville, who is my pick to Advance to the final four from this regional.

In the West, I am all chalk as far the Sweet 16 goes, with the top 4 seeds all advancing despite my picking a few upsets in the Round of 64 (most notably UNI as a 12 seed to take down a typically overrated Purdue squad). I'm not a huge Missouri fan, but they're a good little team and I opted to go with them over Marquette in the second round due to Marquette's injury issues at this point in the season. Even though I have my hesitations about both UConn and Memphis, I ended up going with both of them to advance to the Elite 8, probably my favorite matchup in that round if all goes as planned, and I have decided grudgingly to go with Memphis to reach the Final Four out of that bracket. I have a ton of respect for John Calipari and what he has managed to do in his career coaching NCAA basketball. First building an abysmal UMASS program into constant domination, and now doing the same thing with a beaten-down program in Memphis State some years ago, Calipari has clearly earned the respect of all of his peers and in my view has earned my nod in the Elite 8 over UConn, which I am picking mainly due to Memphis's overpowering defense, which I believe is one of the very best in the country heading into the Big Dance.

Up in the East Regional, I once again went with chalk to the Sweet 16, seeds 1 through 4, although again I am picking some upsets in the earlier rounds to go against this trend. I originally had Duke losing to Texas in the Round of 32, and then I switched that but had them losing to Villanova in the Sweet 16, but the more I think about it, the more props I give to Duke for putting together a pretty good lil' season this year, in particular since making a switch among their starters and especially with Henderson playing so big and strong around the basket for the perennially soft team, so I actually think they will beat Villanova in the Sweet 16 and reach the Elite 8 in one of the biggest games for that program in several years. That game, however, will not be a matchup with regional #1 seed Pittsburgh, however, as I am making my first stupid decently big upset call in picking Xavier, a good little team, to take down Pitt. I simply do not think Pitt has the offensive guard play nor the depth to win six straight games in this thing, and since I can't bring myself to pick Duke to beat them, I opted to go with Xavier, which will bring a 4-seed to play against Duke for the right to make the final 4, where I think Duke will return in early April this year.

Lastly, in the South, I picked 1 seed Carolina to win easily to the Sweet 16, facing off against Gonzaga who I believe will be able get by either winner of the Western Kentucky - Illinois game, where I am picking the Hilltoppers after Illinois played an uninspired season in the highly uninspiring Big Ten this year. On the bottom half of that bracket, I like Oklahoma and their player of the year candidate Griffin, but the one big exception to my general theme is that, as a big-time Georgetown guy, I simply cannot bring myself to pick the Syracuse Orange to make the Sweet 16, even as a 3 seed. Instead I am going with Arizona State, my one and only Pac-10 team I think is worth anything in this year's tournament, to upset the Cuse in the Round of 32 and reach the Sweet 16 as a 6 seed. In the end, I think Carolina beats down on an overmatched Gonzaga squad, and I'm going again with ASU to best Oklahoma, who was very inconsistent this year, to reach the Elite 8 before losing to Carolina who really should walk through this bracket into the Final 4.

So my Final 4 is really fun, with Louisville facing Memphis on the one side, and an awesome Duke-Carolina showdown on the other side. After beating Duke twice during the regular season this year, I think the Tar Heels ought to stick it to Duke again in the tournament, advancing to the finals where I have them facing Louisville. I love John Calipari's Memphis team, especially on defense, but I just can't find a way to pick against Louisville, the team that won the Big East regular season and then won the Big East tournament as well, the hottest team in the country and totally peaking at the best possible time.

A Louisville - Carolina final will surely be a spectacle, featuring two high-profile programs with rich basketball tradition, and two former national champion coaches with plenty of experience in big games and in March Madness pressure. In the end, following the same logic as above, I just can't find a reason to get away from Louisville as my national champion. Louisville has been so amazingly strong down the stretch, they have an awesome, proven coach, and Carolina has had more than one or two moments of real inconsistency this season. I just think the Cardinals have the best squad in the country this season, in particular if their guards are playing well. The Big East schedule will serve Louisville very well this year, having played several games against top-5 and top-15 opponents all season long, and we all know how Roy Williams like to F up in the tournament. So I'm going with the Cardinals of Louisville, and Rick Pitino, to hoist the trophy when all is said and done in a few weeks in the pit of hell Detroit.

Anybody dare to challenge any of these immutable picks?

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Blogger 1Queens Up1 said...

I'm a pitt homer so I had pitt vs UNC and louisville vs Memphis as I think uconn will choke.

Pitt vs louisville for a revenge game with pitt taking it down.

4:26 AM  
Blogger BWoP said...

Man, is there anything better than this day, all across the country? I mean, March Madness is the event that attracts the casual, or as I like to describe them, the "female" fan more than any other sporting event we got, except for perhaps the Superbowl, which for a one-time event has the most cache among the chicks of the country I would think.

You suck.

Go Orange!

7:23 AM  

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