It’s been a rough week here in Barcelona, and with this past Sunday being Selection Sunday, it was known that a crazy week was coming. Before I could even look at a bracket I had to get my work done (which if interested included a midterm, a paper, a group project, and an individual project), when I finally finished somebody upstairs was still not satisfied and decided to take my Internet from me. In America this is an urgent problem and gets fixed right away, in Spain however, we are on day number three currently and there’s no sign of the technician in site. It’s all gravy though, I was able to rush to the lab and get this post out before the games start which happens to be in less than 3 hours….
My initial thoughts looking at this years bracket was “Wow the committee actually did a good job.” It’s not often we can say that, in fact i’m not sure if they ever did a better job selecting the 65 teams. Some people will argue that Creighton or St. Mary’s deserved a shot but honestly if they want a shot to play with the big boys then do just that. Congrats to Creighton you won 26 games and only one of those wins came against an opponent ranked inside the top 50. That’s unacceptable, people have been growing tired of these mid majors stealing bids, hoping maybe another one will turn out like the George Mason we all remember a few years back. The committee is making it a point that if you want to play in this tournament you need to be well tested. Look at mid majors like Siena and Davidson (unfortunately for the world and Davidson they did not make the tournament and we don’t get to see Stephen Curry tear up March again), they went out and played good teams and had a strong schedule, how else do you explain a 9 seed out of a team coming from the MAAC?
No Curry this tournament
There’s no shortage of battle tested teams from major conferences including 7 from both the Big East and ACC. Now as far as seeding goes, this is where the committee left room for improvement. Start right at the top, 3 Big East teams get number 1 seeds, really? Apparently UNC had one spot on lock no matter what happened in the ACC tournament, and Louisville punched in their ticket winning the Big East tournament. UConn makes it difficult because although they beat Louisville, Syracuse, Michigan, Gonzaga and a ton of other tournament teams not just in the Big East. So i can see how the committee selected them but with losses to Pitt twice and Georgetown they were no sure bet. Once UConn was selected how can Pitt not be a number one seed they beat UConn twice as well as Louisville the other two number 1 seeds. So what does this ultimately boil down to….No love for teams that actually handled their business and win there respected tournament. Memphis went undefeated in conference play and compiled a 31-3 record on the season, with wins against Tennessee & Gonzaga and losses to two big east teams. Once again I’m sure the argument will arise about strength of schedule and to that i say this. What about the team with the highest RPI and wins the second if not toughest conference championship? The Duke Blue Devils has had one of the toughest schedules in the nation, cracked the number 1 spot for a week or two, and by the way won the ACC tournament not UNC. So where’s the love? At the very latest the committee should have only had two big east teams to go with two ACC teams. If selecting between UConn and Pitt is too tough just go with Memphis and make Louisville the only number 1 seed from the Big East since they were clearly the best from the Big East.
There’s no secret we all love March Madness because it’s a chance to root for the underdog and try to pull off upsets. But what really is considered an upset, I mean a 9 seed beating an 8 seed isn’t really an upset just because it is a lower seeded team. In my opinion a true upset is when an 11 seed goes on to beat a 6 seed. We also have been starting to see more upsets in the later rounds than normal over the past few years and I expect this trend to continue. We also historically speaking see a number 12 seed upset a 5 seed, so lets start there with my picks:
The high flying white guy will surprise the world once again.
-I’m taking Chase and the underachieving Wildcats to finally get on track and pull off the upset over #5 Utah. Just imagine what Arizona might have been able to accomplish this March had Brandon Jennings not left for Europe or Jerryd Bayless stayed one more year
-Also taking Western Kentucky over Illinois in another12-5 upset, remember what Courtney Lee and Western Kentucky did last year pulling off the upset, Lee may be gone but the experience is still there
-I think Eric Maynor is going to make people remember what he did to Duke a few years back with an 11 seed and VCU upsets #6 UCLA this year with better guard play
-My big sleeper in the tourny however is Utah St. pulling off not one but two upsets beating Marquette and then dealing the same fate to Missouri, this is an experienced team that finds ways to win games and taking a 30 win season into the tournament should give them some momentum
Players To Watch:
Maybe more fun than watching all the upsets, is watching players take their game to a level never thought possible. We’ve seen over the years, players that have amazing tournaments and put the team on their back will help their draft stock go up dramatically; think Tyrus Thomas, Sean May, Mike Conley, Joakim Noah, DeJuan Blair (might be a bit early for Blair but can’t you see Pitt making the final four and the undersized, no real position Blair somehow becomes a top 10 pick?) players who probably get drafted too high because of what they do this month. This is also the time to spot the next Stephen Curry and see how far he can take his team through this journey.
–Eric Maynor PG, VCU, SR: Now a senior this is Maynor’s last chance to show everyone why he is one of the best point guards in the nation. Playing in a weak conference his whole career he hasn’t had the opportunity to shine in the spotlight, so here it is. As a sophomore he took advantage and led the upset of the Blue Devils and a couple tournament games. He takes care of the ball and his shooting range has extended over the years. If he can start hot against a good defensive UCLA team, watch out!
–Johnny Flynn PG, Syracuse, SO: If the Big East tournament was any indication, we could be in for a real treat in the next few weeks. Flynn is a young, undersized point guard but a fierce competitor with the ability to carry the team and would love to take the final shot. He’s a quick little guy that’s always been a fan favorite. He’ll be a scout favorite at the end of the month if he is able to get Syracuse advancing for a tournament run. Flynn has the ability to be this year’s heroic Mario Chalmers.
–Jeff Pendergraph PF, Arizona St., SR & James Harden SG Arizona St., SO: This is not only the two keys to the inside out game of Arizona St. but also the heart. Pendergraph is a senior and this is his last shot so you can expect him to come ready to play. He faces a good Temple team and will have to match the leadership of senior Dionte Christmas (who probably should have his own section here; if he pulls off the upset here Christmas has the ability to become this years Curry). Harden is one of the better scorers in the country and we get the hint that a great tournament and he might leave to join his buddy Pendergraph in the draft. I expect a great offensive showdown between him and Christmas, Temple’s shooting star.
-DeMar DeRozan G/F, USC, FR: DeRozan might need a great tournament more than most of these players due to the tremendous amount of expectations coming into this season. He was supposed to be this years freshman phenom much like Beasley, Rose, and Mayo were last year. He has been bringing it as of late and a good Pac 10 tournament (in which he outplayed James Harden) may have set the stage. His shooting has been streaky all season but his strength and explosiveness means he can blossom at any second. Either way he has terrific raw NBA skills and a tremendous athlete. This guy could be the most athletic upside pick in the draft (as far as wings go) and will be an exciting NBA player wherever he ends up. However, a quick exit and we might see him back at USC next year.
–Hasheem Thabeet C, UConn, JR: Most already have Blake Griffin written off as the number one pick in this years draft, but we cannot forget about Thabeet. At 7″3 and one of the games best shot blockers, a long tournament run ending in a National Championship might be all the doctor ordered to turn Thabeet into this years Derrick Rose (as far as establishing himself as the #1 pick). His improvement since joining Calhoun’s squad is impressive and is not a stiff center. He has above average athleticism and will continue to work and develop his raw skills as he plays, but already has what it takes to rebound and shot block in the NBA.
–Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke, JR: Henderson is already one of the best defenders in the country and will need to be the leader of the Blue Devils if they are able to reach the Final Four and ultimately a national championship. But what he really needs to do, is find a consistent offensive game and be the number two scorer Duke needs behind Singler. Henderson has underachieved up to this point, but this is his chance to change all that. Duke is a jump shooting team and will live and die by the 3. There’s no team in the country they can’t beat, but if they have one bad shooting night the season could end earlier than expected. Henderson needs to keep the team focus and if his shot isn’t falling he must find other ways to be effective because Duke’s season relies on him.