Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2010 March Madness Picks -- Part I

OK so after having a lot of fun picking the over/unders for the 2009 Major League Baseball season and then again picking the NFL games during the 2009-2010 season, I am going to post my official picks for the 2010 NCAA Tournament for the first time here on the blog. It's a lot to get through in this first week, so I am going to spread the picks out over a few days here, starting today with the Midwest and the East brackets, whose respective champions will meet in the Final Four in a few weeks to decide who gets the right to play for the 2010 national championship.

For starters, I will say this year that I think we are looking at generally speaking one of the weakest pools of NCAA basketball teams in recent memory. While of course you've got the ever-present talking heads on the 24-hour sports tv channels and the myriad 24-hour sports radio and other media outlets endlessly debating which regional is the strongest and which is the weakest, the bottom line is that none of these four brackets strikes me as particularly tougher or easier than any other, and I think ultimately this stems from the fact that there really are not more than a handful of truly good teams in the game this year. By the time you get down to the 3 and 4 seeds, only about half of those teams strike fear into anyone's hearts as far as I'm concerned, and just about nobody below that level is really on anyone's radar screen.

Looking at the Midwest, this is a perfect example of what I am talking about. Kansas of course at #1 is the top team in the country, and is very deserving of that honor. They have destroyed the competition this year, and really didn't have any truly bad losses like so many teams have had on occasion throughout the season. They stepped up and won their conference tournament, so they're playing well, and they have one of the country's best basketball coaches in Bill Self. Kansas can be counted on I think to run deep this year, and frankly there is not much in their way to the Final Four in the Midwestern regional.

Despite all the hype coming out of the midwestern part of the country this year, this was a terrible year for the Big Ten, and I don't think much of Ohio State as a #2 seed. Sure I have Ohio State winning their first-round game, but I think a tough #7 Oklahoma State team takes the other OSU out in the Round of 32 after Oklahoma State dispatches with #10 Georgia Tech in Round 1. I also have tremendous respect for Tom Izzo, #5 Michigan State's coach, and even though his team has underachieved a bit this year, I see them upsetting #4 Maryland in Round 2 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the 85th straight season. The ACC is going to have a baaaaaad tournament this year me thinks, as this is pretty much the weakest I can ever recall the ACC being, in my entire adult life of following college basketball, and I think Georgia Tech and Maryland's early demises this year will be the first signs of that as each team fared pretty well in-conference in 2010 and yet will be exiting early from the Big Dance later this weekend in my estimation. And lastly, the #3 seed in the Midwest is my alma mater in Georgetown, who has a deceptively tough team that is strong both inside and out, is well-coached, and who had 10 losses despite recording 9 wins against tournament teams on the season (including Duke, Butler, Washington and Temple out-of-conference as well as Butler, Washington, Pitt, Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette away from home) and 5 wins against top-10 teams on the year. The Hoyas finished up the season strong, finishing only a ridiculous non-travel-call away from taking their first Big East title in three years, and I think should have little trouble handling Ohio, Tennessee or SDSU over their first two games.

So in all, I think Kansas is obviously a very strong top seed in the Midwest, but I am not impressed with #2 Ohio State and do not expect them to be a threat in this year's tournament. I do like Georgetown at #3, but then Maryland again at #4 I think is weak, and there are not any other teams in the bracket that I consider a threat. Thus, I am expecting a matchup of Georgetown and Kansas in the Elite 8 to determine the winner of this regional just a couple of weeks from now.

Turning to the Eastern regional, I suppose I think this is probably the toughest of the brackets, but even then only because I think three of the top four seeds are quality teams with a real shot to make some noise in their bracket before all is said and done, while most other regionals I think only have two quality teams among their top four seeds as I think with the Midwest per the above discussion. In the East, I love Kentucky as the #1 seed, and like with Kansas in the Midwest, I think it is going to be very difficult to find a team to challenge Kentucky when push comes to shove in this regional. Although, if there was a #2 seed that could push this young Kentucky team to the wall (pun intended), it might be #2 seeded West Virginia, who showed in the second half of this season and then especially in the Big East tournament just how tough and solid they really are. Some people don't even realize that Bob Huggins -- the old Cincinnati coach -- landed a few years ago at West Virginia, and just like he did at his former school, he has quickly built a perennial basketball powerhouse as he preaches his unique brand of ball to a new audience.

New Mexico as a #3 seed is the most questionable upper seeded team in this bracket in my view, and even though UNM had a great season in their own right, I just think in this year more than any year in recent memory, there is really very little good college basketball being played west of Kansas. The Pac-10 is, like the ACC, having perhaps its worst year in recent memory, with somewhere between zero and one team actually deserving a bid in the Big Dance, and the WCC, WAC and MWC all also seem a bit lighter than they have been in past years. New Mexico has almost zero quality wins on their schedule unless you count wins over fellow westerners like BYU and UNLV, and given the chance I am going to go with the teams with quality road wins over teams with just 4 losses but no games against real competition any day in the NCAA Tournament. So while I will pick UNM to win their first game against Montana, I don't expect them to be around much longer after that as a #3 seed in the East regional. At #4 in the East is Wisconsin, one of the few teams I do have a little respect for out of the Big Ten this year. Although most of Wisconsin's success has come on their home court this season where they have been almost unbeatable, I do expect Wisconsin to win their first game before having a great matchup with A-10 champion Temple, one of four teams in this year's Big Dance from the state of Pennsylvania (the others being Pitt, Villanova and Lehigh). I would guess that Wisconsin pulls that one out in the Round of 32, but it doesn't matter much because either team is I think easy fodder for Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

So in the East, I love Kentucky at #1, and I also like West Virginia quite a bit at #2. I expect #3 New Mexico not to run deep in the tournament, and I think the #5-#4 matchup is interesting but ultimately will fall to Kentucky next weekend. I think this one shapes up quite nicely to feature an Elite 8 matchup of Kentucky vs. West Virginia in one of the two brackets this year that I see coming down to a 1-2 battle to decide the winner of the regional.

Tomorrow I will be back to preview the West and the South brackets, finalize my Elite 8 teams, and then on Thursday I can post my pre-tournament Elite 8, Final Four and Final winners.

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