by Adam Fleischer
As I watched the unveiling of the brackets on Sunday night, I found myself having mixed emotions. From a selfish standpoint, I was upset to see some match-ups that threw a wrench in my plans having to do with riding certain teams for one, two, or more wins (i.e. Butler having to deal with Tennessee in the second round or USC and Kansas State facing off in the first round). On the other hand, the excitement that had been building inside me for the last couple weeks of the season and the conference tournaments reached an even higher plateau as I went through first round games and potential later round match-ups alike.
One thing that became immediately clear was that my pre-bracket-release picks for the mag in ish 117 wouldn’t be holding up. Even though I knew this would most likely happen, I got smacked in the face with it right away in the form of a potential second round bout between two of my Final Four teams—number one overall UNC and surprisingly low seeded (8) Indiana. And that’s only if Indiana can survive their first game against Arkansas, which I think they’ll be able to do.
Now that I’ve had a day or two to let things marinate, I still have no idea what the hell I’m looking at when I pick up the bracket. So many games have me wavering back and forth, unable and unwilling to pick a winner for any slew of reasons. I’m not getting too worked up about my inabilities to make picks, though, because I can only hope that it means we’re in store for some actual madness.
A few first round contests that caught my eye…
Oklahoma vs. St. Joe’s: Despite being plagued by injuries during points in the season, most notably to beast of a freshman Blake Griffin, the Sooners were able to hang around in the Big 12 this year, often flying under the radar. In terms of St. Joe’s, I haven’t seen them play much, but the A-10 is a legit conference and they took it to Xavier, who I really like, just last week. I’m curious to see how the defensive minded, bang it out style that Oklahoma plays will match up against a good offensive team in St. Joe’s.
Butler vs. South Alabama: Butler was ranked in the top 25 for much of the year, including closing the season at number 10 in the coaches poll, but only managed to pull a 7 seed in the tourney. They drew Sun Belt Conference champs South Alabama, who were blessed with an at-large bid when they couldn’t wrap up their conference tournament. The Bulldogs return a number of contributors from last year’s team that earned a trip to the Sweet 16, but they rely heavily on the three, something that could hurt if its not dropping this weekend. On the other hand, if it is, they could really shake things up.
Pitt vs. Oral Roberts: Watching a healthy Pitt tear through the Big East Tournament left many observers, myself included, pretty high on what the Panthers can do. All the experts seem to be picking them to make it to the Sweet 16, many expect them to beat Memphis, and some even see them advancing to San Antonio. While I doubt they’ll stumble against Oral Roberts, I wouldn’t mind seeing Bob Knight, who, although arguably senile, is wildly entertaining as an analyst, have to make some new picks.
Clemson vs. Villanova: 5-12 match-ups are often quickly looked to as sexy upset picks. This year should be no different, as there’s a strong group of five seeds that must take on possible spoilers with the group of 12s. One such game comes in the first round here, pitting ACC tournament runner up Clemson against Villanova, and this is probably my favorite of all the 5-12 games. Nova did pretty well in a deep Big East this year, led by Scottie Reynolds, who is a damn good player and can be very dangerous if he gets hot. Clemson is very good at what they do, too, though. They have a deep and balanced team and play tenacious D for forty minutes, often times pressing opponents. The Tigers seem more built for the tournament, but it should be a fun one to watch.
USC vs. Kansas State: I feel like both of these teams have the potential to make it to the Final Four, but they could also get knocked out in the first round. K-State has Michael Beasley, and I think we can agree that he’s really good. I’d love to see them jump on his back and get a few wins, because the more we get to watch of him, the luckier we are. USC presents a real challenge, though. They were conditioned all year in the Pac-10 and have Taj Gibson as a nice compliment to OJ Mayo. Whoever comes out on top has the chance to give Wisconsin a run for their money in the second round.
UConn vs. San Diego: If you read some of my reflections on the season as it progressed, you would have come to realize that I’m a big fan of this year’s UConn team. It’s hard for me to overlook the way that they finished the season; they’ve lost two out of three and couldn’t take care of business in the first round of the Big East Tournament. While I am still pulling for them and expect a couple wins, the Huskies are lined up to take on UCLA if they handle opening weekend business. I’m thinking there’s a good chance that no one is going to be able to what UConn would then be faced with attempting: sending the Bruins home with an L.
That’s an unintentionally nice segue into my revamped Final Four picks (still subject to change): UCLA (in my head I don’t see them losing), Tennessee, Georgetown, and Memphis (can’t turn my back on them now).
Bring on Thursday. I’m ready.