March Madness musings

Published 4:37 pm Wednesday, March 19, 2014


One of my favorite sports days of the year has come and gone … What has Selection Sunday brought us this season?

Midwest Region — Someone really didn’t want to see Wichita State back in the Final Four, eh?

The Shockers were the first team to emerge from the regular season undefeated since 2004 and are rewarded with the opportunity to emerge from a WWE-style steel cage match if they’re to return to the Final Four this year: How do games against preseason No. 1 Kentucky, defending national champion Louisville and either a Duke team led by possible No. 1 overall NBA draftee Jabari Parker or last year’s national runner-up Michigan sound to you?


Maybe the Shockers should consider themselves lucky that the selection committee didn’t drop Kansas to a No. 16 seed due to Joel Embiid’s injury. But if they make it back-to-back Final Four trips, they’ll have certainly earned it.

I’m standing behind the Shockers here, though. They gave a better Louisville team all it could handle a year ago in a national semifinal. I don’t think Duke or Michigan have the defensive chops to stop WSU. The scariest matchup, to me, is Kentucky in round two, because that’s a team that could be the most talented in the field. But I’m sticking with WSU. They boast a top 10 offense and defense nationally by adjusted points scored per 100 possessions, one of just two teams that can make that claim …

… Louisville being the other. “Thanks again, committee!”

West Region — Arizona has a beastly defense and I don’t really like anyone else from this bracket, so despite the Wildcats losing a key starter in Brandon Ashley (and it certainly affected them), I’m taking them to emerge here.

If you’re feeling especially brave, though, Oklahoma State could upset the apple cart here in round two — its an extremely tough team to beat decisively, its played a very tough schedule, its record looks worse than it probably would be sans the Marcus Smart incident and suspension, and a game against Arizona would be an up-tempo affair for sure: that’s Okie State’s game, with three potent scorers.

I’d be surprised if one of those two teams doesn’t reach the Final Four. Wisconsin always seems to fall a little short and while I think Creighton can make a little run to the Elite Eight, I need to see more defense to make ‘em a Four contender.

East Region — Florida. Kansas will be tough if Embiid can come back from his spinal stress fracture and be effective, but I have my doubts. Mostly due to it being a spinal stress fracture. Florida is undefeated with point guard Scotty Wilbekin in the lineup and the rest of the region is uninspiring.

South Region — Michigan State is healthy, it looked incredible in the Big 10 tournament and Tom Izzo simply wins big when his teams are this good. So I’m backing Sparty.

But this is a pretty strong region that’s not getting a lot of respect. Either Virginia or Villanova would be my pick to win the West, were either seeded there, both among the country’s best at blending scoring and stopping. Iowa State is legit and was a top team in the Big 12, which might have been the best conference in the country this season.

SURPRISE RUNS?  If Tennessee emerges from that play-in game against Iowa tonight,  they’re a dangerous team in the Midwest. The Vols played three of the No. 1 seeds in this year’s tourney, losing three times to Florida and once at Wichita State but dominating Virginia. In all but one of those losses, Tennessee was right there until UF or WSU pulled away late.

Tennessee can score and it defends extremely well, particularly the 3. That makes them potentially deadly to teams like Duke and Michigan, both of whom rely on the 3 and don’t defend well. I’ve got the Vols to the Elite Eight.

Dayton, I think, can also maybe make a run to the Sweet 16 in the South region. It has a first round grudge match against in-state rival Ohio State, then a potential second round game with Syracuse. On paper, that’s an uphill climb. But Ohio State really struggled to score, and Syracuse closed the season in a real tailspin, losing to bottom rung teams and going into huge scoring droughts themselves. Dayton can score.

First round upsets? New Mexico State over San Diego State, Stephen F. Austin over VCU, Harvard over Cincinnati. SD State and Natti struggle to score, and I typically like to out those teams early. Austin and VCU play the same pressing style, but SFA takes care of the ball. That could suffocate the Rams.

Elite Eight: Florida, Kansas, Michigan State,  Villanova, Wichita State, Tennessee, Arizona, Creighton.

Final Four: Florida, Michigan State, Wichita State, Arizona.

Championship: Michigan State over Wichita State