Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Random Thoughts Of (March) Madness, Pt. 4


OK, let's take a look at the Austin regional as we wait for Michael Strahan to be the latest Michael to declare his innocense.

Well, Duke has received it's annual love taps from the selection committee, it would seem. First, the Blue Devils open in Charlotte. Is it law that they must pass through a North Carolina city on an annual basis? Second, the region, on paper at least, is the softest - by far.

In other words, typical Duke. Keep your eyes peeled for some questionable calls working in Duke's favor as well. Anyone remember Xavier's Anthony Myles fouling out midway through the second half of last year's Elite Eight game on back-to-back ticky-tack fouls? That was a travesty. Don't be surprised if such shenanigans occur again, magically, as always.

Then again, it might not matter. This bracket is horrible. Did the committee look for the teams with the biggest question marks and then line them up accordingly behind Duke?

Kentucky? Two freshman guards and two late-season losses to Florida - including being embarrassed by the Gators on Sunday - has me seeing two rounds and out for the Cats. Maybe three, but not further than that.

Michigan State? Does anyone else get the feeling that Mateen Cleeves was the best thing that ever happened to Tom Izzo? I'm kidding. Izzo is fine, and the Spartans had a nice second-half to the season, but...I'm not sure exactly what the "but" is about the Spartans, but it seems to be there. Make sense?

Utah? Quick, name one Ute besides "that Australian guy everyone is always talking about."

Again, I ask, what's up with the suddenly 'balling Australians? I suppose they'll kick our Olympic team's ass soon as well.

Cincinnati? HAHAHAHAHA!!!! The Bearcats? Man, how cool were the Bearcats when they had Nick Van Exel and Corie Blount. That was during the era of famous defenses, namely the "Amoeba" at UNLV and "Forty Minutes of Hell" at Arkansas. But for my money, those early-'90s Cincy teams played the most frantic defense of all. They were relentless. In '93 they had eventual champion North Carolina down by 18 points in the Elite Eight before falling in overtime. That hurt. But those Cincy teams were awesome, and fun as hell. The current Bearcats? Please. Hell, they started their annual choke job early this year when they were run off the court by South Florida in the C-USA tourney. The Bearcats need their swagger back.

Stanford? I'm sure they get good grades and all, but...

Mississippi State? Weren't the Bulldogs a Top Ten team in the preseason? Whatever happened with that?

Iowa? Despite losing unrepentant thug Pierre Pierce, the Hawkeyes did manage to save Steve Alford's job, which was the most important thing - to Steve Alford.

This region is weaker than Michael Jackson's squeamish voice. Am I wrong here? Every year the Blue Devils are placed in the softest appearing region, usually with dates scheduled in North Carolina at some point, and, if things are really being laid out nicely for them, the Meadowlands. Toss in some questionable officiating and - VOILA! - the recipe is timeless.

So it was a good thing that as this bracket was announced the first thing one may have thought was, "Oh, baby, Syracuse is going to smack - SMACK! - Duke in the Sweet Sixteen." That's what I thought. Of course, my gut instinct is wrong roughly 98.7% of the time when it comes to the tourney, but I'm loving the Orangemen - er, the Orange. Loving them.

(For potential betting purposes only: This means Syracuse will probably lose to Taylor Coppenrath, Tom Brennan’s farewell, and some guy named Sorrentine.)

Like Louisville, Syracuse was jobbed by the committee. The Orange coasted to the Big East title, knocking off UConn along the way, and yet were "rewarded" with a fourth seed and a trip to beautiful Indianapolis. Well, I suppose they can take solace in the fact that this region is Duke’s little playground.

(OK, I’ll stop picking on Duke now.)

I'm also liking Oklahoma, which quietly won the Big 12 title while Oklahoma St. and Kansas were busy faltering. This is not an easy feat. People like to imply that the Big 12 is down, but I don't buy it. Come on, even Texas A&M was decent this year. (Think about that.) Kelvin Thompson teams always play tough, hard-nosed basketball and the Sooners should be comfortable with the familiar Austin surroundings, seeing as how they're basketball players and not football players, in which case they’d need G-Unit-like security.

UTEP? The Miners could make a run. I'm liking the Miners in that opener against Utah. And as a general rule, UTEP is always a Cinderella candidate in the tourney. Always.

(For potential betting purposes only: Avoid UTEP at all costs.)

Can someone please tell me more about the history of 12 seeds beating 5 seeds? Please? I don't think the 1,473 times I've heard this in the last three days has sufficiently drilled the likelihood into my brain. Anyway, Old Dominion looks like a dangerous 12 seed against Michigan St. Twenty-eight wins is 28 wins.

Niagara? Calvin Murphy will be crushed. So will the Purple Eagles. (Purple?)

You know, Worcester, Massachusetts is a great spot for that Kentucky-Eastern Kentucky game, eh? (Why not Nashville?)

Sweet Sixteen: Duke, Syracuse, Oklahoma, Iowa

The pick: Syracuse. Jim Boeheim seems to get better with age. The players aren't bad either. The Orange have Gerry McNamara from long range and Hakim Warrick from all the other ranges.


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