Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Atlanta Regional: Duke's Red Carpet

I realize that every two-bit blogger such as myself will be posting an NCAA tourney preview this week, but who am I to be any different?

It should be noted that I've been making tourney picks since before junior high and have never - NOT EVEN ONCE! - won a pool. I've come close a few times, but even those moments of competency have been few and far between. One year I did draw Kent State out of a hat and they somehow made the Elite Eight, which was exciting, but we all knew the legendary Golden Flashes weren't going to win it all. I don't care if they had Antonio Gates.

Point is, take these picks with a bag full of salt.

I'll start with the Atlanta regional because it comes first alphabetically and because I feel like it.

1. Duke - I'm legitimately shocked that I've been hearing this region cited as the toughest of the four. Either people are popping the crazy pills or I've been unfortunate to be hearing Duke apologists who refuse to admit that, yes, once again the Blue Devils have been given a smooth ride. What would an NCAA tourney be without Duke starting off somewhere in the state of North Carolina?

How on earth can this region be considered the toughest? Pass that crack, please.

Whatever. It doesn't matter. JJ Redick will choke...eventually. Hopefully, sooner than later. It's become an annual March tradition. The weather warms, the rain comes, and Redick's shot goes cold at the most inopportune of times and there's nothing Dick Vitale or the Duke-friendly refs can do about it. And while this has been an enjoyable development in recent seasons, it will be downright joyous to watch this year as Redick finishes his career sans title and heads off to the NBA to be a bit role player.

Am I too hard on Redick? I feel like I might be. I really shouln't be this hard on on a college-age kid who doesn't appear on the OC or any show on the WB. I don't want to be hater - I really don't - but I'll be damned if Redick isn't a cocky mofo. He just rubs me the wrong way. He reminds me of the spoiled, rich kid who's always had his way and now expects it. I cannot wait until someone gets in his face all...night...long and hounds him into submission. It'll happen and it's going to be fun. Besides, his name is JJ. Who names their kid JJ?

If Coach Kljsfdhkhfuski has American Express commercials again this year, I may just do something I regret.

2. Texas - For whatever reason, I just don't believe in the Longhorns. I can't quite put my finger on it. I mean, don't get me wrong. They have all right pieces: a point guard, slashers, big men. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if they roll through this region and reach Indy, but something still bugs me. Maybe it's just my overall dislike of the state of Texas.

3. Iowa - The Hawkeys are any Midwestern hoops junkie's dream: they play tough defense, shoot the ball well, play fundamentally efficient, and are very white. Presumably, these guys learned the game on dirt courts with the scent of cow shit in the air or in barns. You might as well cue the theme music form Hoosiers when these guys hit court. Hell, Greg Brunner is almost completely bald, which likely assures that rec league has-beens in knee braces and sports goggles everywhere will be firmly in the Hawkeyes' corner. Jeff Horner is a poor man's Redick and less likely to choke in the clutch.

Bottom line? Steve Alford has the Hawkeyes playing solid, smart basketball. They could be tough. Of course, they won't be at home where they were unbeaten this year, but still.

4. LSU - Glen "Big Baby" posed in last week's Sports Illustrated in a ballet dance class, which forces me to question his state of mind as the tourney looms. Someone needs to sit the kid down and have a chat. But he's good. Real good. And so are the Tigers, several of whom have been teammates for years coming up in AAU. They know each other. They're tight. They're not embarrassed to compare paycheck sizes from LSU boosters.

I don't know what to think of LSU. They might get upset by Iona in the first round, They might upset Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. Who knows? Either way, Davis posed for pics in a ballet class, and there's no way he can ever undo that.

5. Syracuse - Yeah, Syracuse's unexpected run in the Big East tourney was nice, but that story quickly jumped the shark. Orange overload. Gerry McNamara seems like a nice guy, but the less I have to see of him and his annoying clone, Eric Deevendorf, the better. The 'Cuse is losing to Texas A&M.

6. West Virginia - Unlike last year when the Mountaineers climbed off the bubble by getting hot at the right time and reaching the Big East tourney final, this season they've gone cold down the stretch. Not a good sign. Maybe Kevin Pittsnogle has been distracted by fatherhood?

7. California - DePaul beat Cal...at Cal. Enough said. I don't have much confidence in the Bears going any further than the second round.

8. George Washington - You have to feel for the Colonials, who were having an absolute dream season before Pops Mensah-Bonsu hurt his knee a month ago. Yeah, he's expected back this weekend, but GW was bent over by the committee sans lube and given an eight seed, which was completely unfair. Total garbage. What did the Colonials do to anger the basketball gods?

9. UNC-Wilmington - They're dubbed the Seahawks and wear teal. I think we all know how this is going to end.

10. NC State - Don't be expecting any 1983-like magic, or even a duplicate of last year's Sweet Sixteen appearance.

11. Southern Illinois
- Always a tough out, the Salukis should hang tough with West Virginia and maybe even pull off the upset. Watch out for the Salukis' cheerleaders. They're crazy.

12. Texas A&M - I honestly think Billy Gillepsie might be the best young coach in America. I also think the Aggies have a legit shot to reach the Sweet Sixteen. If not this year, the Aggies will be back. Can you say, "Program on the rise"?

13. Iona - Coach Jeff Ruland looked funny as an NBA player. I'd like the Gaels chances more if he still sported the mullet.

14. Northwestern State
- There is a dude on the Demons who has, without doubt, the slickest afro in the tourney. I don't even know his name as I only caught a few minutes of their conference title game, but his afro is real nice. I mean, it's one of those massive jobs that looks like he doesn't do anything other than just let it grow, regardless of how wild or messy it gets. I like that. Let your freak flag fly. Greg Brunner could have troubles as he stares longingly at it and ponders his sad fate as bald college dude.

15. Penn - You know how those Ivy League schools roll. They straight-up ball, baby.

16. Southern - I guess it's in the South somewhere.

First round upset: Texas A&M over Syracuse

Final Four: Duke over Texas. I don't want to do it, but I have to.


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