In honor of this week’s official start of the national holiday known as March Madness, we’ve asked some of our regular contributors to weigh in with their takes on the tournament. When we last heard from Grandma Susan, she was giving us an eyewitness account of the Hogs' rout of Florida early last month (we hope she brings that same good mojo to the IU game). Today she starts with the Arkansas-Indiana matchup and then breaks down the entire tournament from there. Read on:
One of these days a #16 seed is going to beat a #1 seed. No, I’m not going out on that limb this year to predict it, but it will happen sometime. Just saying.
So although I don’t see the upset occurring in those games, the first round generally does hold an upset or two. The interesting games I see here are between the #8 and #9 seeds, which are the most evenly matched in terms of stats. Naturally, the most compelling is in the East, where Indiana meets Arkansas. I’m calling it for the Hogs, although we all know that is just out of loyalty. To be fair, the Indiana fans are calling it out of loyalty as well. These teams are very much alike in all respects, including their up and down season, shooting percentage, and record. Certainly, the Hoosiers were hard hit with Kelvin Sampson’s resignation, but they seem to be holding their own. And Arkansas, without Indiana’s excuse, has had about the same kind of season. Seems as though both of them have a tough time showing up for all their games. When they do turn up, both teams defend well and shoot pretty fair, not great. This one could be decided by free throws.
But then what game can’t? Makes me really surly when a fine team shoots itself in the foot rather than in the bucket. Too many of them are too eager to shoot three-pointers and neglect the freebies. They are just kids, after all, and want to go for the drama!
In the Midwest, the most interesting first round game for me is the Kansas State vs. USC matchup. Kansas State is not really a basketball school (leave that to KU), but this has been a good year for them. Their player Michael Beasley is widely mentioned as the finest freshman player on any court, and I must say he is fun to watch. Out of fondness for the school where I took my dietetics courses and one of my daughters went to college, I am pulling for the Wildcats to make it to Sweet Sixteen. A long shot, but why not.
As for the #8-#9 slot, I’m going with UNLV. Those kids have been inside practicing instead of hitting the casinos which shows some determination.
The Marquette and Kentucky game in the South could be interesting. Kentucky has improved steadily all year under Billy Gillespie. Gillespie is only in his first year, but it sure would be good for him if Kentucky did well. Kentucky fans must be among the most fickle around; they like to chew up young coaches. Anyhow, the SEC is a tough proving-ground, so I think they should be able to win one round.
The #8-#9 game is between Mississippi State and Oregon. Tempting as it is to choose any team named for a cute bird (this team has some of the sweetest memorabilia anywhere); I’m sticking with Mississippi State-another SEC choice.
In the West, I like Texas A&M over BYU. The Aggies have improved from a being the perennial bottom-feeder to being a real threat in the Big Twelve. Any competition for Oklahoma and Texas is welcome!
Also in the West, I think I will stick my neck out for Baylor over Purdue. Baylor was a force in the 1950s, but hasn’t been heard from lately. I’m a little doubtful about their position in this tournament, but with some luck they could win at least one, maybe two. They’ve had some good moments this year.
And Xavier over Georgia; this shouldn’t be hard. Georgia is probably on everyone’s mind as a potential Cinderella, with their four wins in three days to win the SEC tournament after a less than interesting season. But exhilarating as that was I think that’s it for them. This is their first NCAA appearance since 1989, so the alums will be thrilled with that.
Second round: Does anyone really think the winners of the #8-#9 matches can beat the #1 seeds they will face here? It happens, and I firmly believe that on any given day the worst team can rise to the occasion and beat the best, but I don’t see it this year. However, this is a round where upsets often occur. A small one I look for is Drake to beat UConn. The Missouri Valley is underrated as a conference, and Drake has done very well this year. I like them for the Sweet Sixteen.
My Sixteen are UCLA, Drake, Baylor and Duke in the West; Memphis, Michigan State, Stanford and Texas in the South; UNC, Washington State, Oklahoma, and Tennessee in the East; and Kansas, Vanderbilt, Kansas State and Georgetown in the Midwest.
My Eight: UCLA vs. Duke; Memphis vs. Texas; UNC vs. Tennessee; and Kansas vs. Georgetown. I may be picking these because these are games I would love to watch.
Down to Four: Duke vs. Texas; UNC vs. Kansas. Biggest problem here, I think, is that Texas really has a "home-court" advantage in San Antonio. And Tyler Hansbrough for UNC is a delight on the floor and hard to defend.
The Championship Game: Duke vs. Kansas. Duke has not had as easy a year as everyone always thinks they do, but as long as Coach K is around, they can be formidable.
Champion: Kansas! This is one of the strongest and most consistent Jawhawk teams in awhile. And, in years when the Razorbacks are not really in the running, I will keep choosing the ‘Hawks until they win! Rock Chalk, Jayhawks! (Full disclosure: My other daughter went to KU.)
(Speaking as a Razorback which has one of the coolest, fiercest, and most colorful cheers in the country, KU’s is pretty sorry. Rock Chalk? What’s that?)
March is the month when basketball replaces the weather as a conversation-opener, so let’s settle back and have fun!