Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 Men's Basketball Tournament Sweet Sixteen Preview -- How's Your Bracket Doin'?


How’s your bracket doing?  I’m doing well, yet I’m done.

You see, I only have half of the Sweet 16 correct but I have seven of my Elite Eight (thanks, UNLV) and all of my Final Four Picks alive.  However, this mega-pool I’m in has 815 people in it, so every wrong selection I made was a pick-up for someone.  I’m currently in a tie for 797th place.  The standings are 30 pages long, and my entry is on page 29.

Hey, not everyone can be President Barack Obama.  He has parlayed his love of playing basketball to a yearly on-camera piece with ESPN’s Andy Katz writing on a huge board how he thinks the tournament will go.  How’s he doing so far?  He has Missouri in the Final Four but 11 of the Sweet 16, well enough for the 98th percentile on ESPN’s fantasy bracket game.  Excellent work, Mr. President – now, onto gas prices!  But seriously, though, is there anything he can’t do?  If I didn’t like him, I’d be jealous.

I felt good downplaying the Tigers’ chances of going far, as well as those of Duke, for their abysmally inefficient defenses.  Still, no one is ever safe from a one-and-done situation like the Big Dance.  And knowing my luck, none of my Final Four will make it to New Orleans.

Region by region, what are the chances my picks reach the final weekend?  I’m not changing my choices now; as my program director at KSCR, the student radio station at USC, told me once, dance with who brung ya.  But I will give you my feelings about how I feel about those picks now and who and/or what can smash my bracket to smithereens.

East

My initial regional final: Ohio St. over Wisconsin

How good do I still feel about it, on a percentage scale: 50 percent

I keep waiting for Syracuse’s run to end.  You don’t implement a defense that just gives up on rebounding without running the risk of losing a brickfest.  And when you compound that with the indefinite loss of your interior stopper, Fab Melo, you’ll die in a barrage of body blows.  Right?

Well, I don’t know.  So far the Orange have compensated for their lack of muscle with sure ballhandling, precise shooting and pressure on D.  They face a Wisconsin team that can rebound the hell out of you, but this Badgers team doesn’t scream “athletic” or “resilient” to me.  Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor does not turn the ball over, but this Big Ten guy gets the feeling he’ll be all thumbs going up against a Syracuse double team.

Meanwhile, I regret not going out on a limb and choosing Cincinnati over Florida St. in the Round of 32.  The Seminoles did not overcome the offensive demons that have plagued this team since their recent ascendancy into competence.  And like I said before, the Bearcats have refocused under coach Mick Cronin since that ugly brawl against Xavier in December.  They aren’t going to outscore Ohio St., but they can make this a tight defensive scrum, and never underestimate the all-for-one mentality that the Bearcats have used to make it this far.  Yancey Gates has to stay in the game, however.

West

My initial regional final: Michigan St. over Marquette

How good do I still feel about it, on a percentage scale: 70 percent

The Spartans’ next opponent, Louisville, still is hindered by bad shooting, which evinced itself in their close wins over Davidson and New Mexico in the tourney.  But Michigan St. had an escape of its own, finally shaking loose of pesky Saint Louis in the “second” round.

I believe Tom Izzo is the best head coach in college basketball because he knows his players and he’s taught them to grind out close wins, especially when it looks like they’re going to be on the short end.  They can take a tough slugfest, which this game certainly will be.  Louisville’s great equalizer might be the man opposing Izzo, Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino.  If he implements a zone and if Draymond Green (another stand-up Sparty dude) can’t make his shots from outside or in the paint, Louisville, offensive warts and all, can pull off the shocker.

So far I have been mighty impressed with Jae Crowder, Marquette’s main guy and the Big East Player of the Year.  So why do I feel so shaky about their matchup against Florida?  The Gators have a sieve-like defense, but they have blitzed through their (albeit overmatched) foes Virginia and Norfolk St. to reach the Sweet 16.  They haven’t faced a worthy defense yet, but if Florida starts hitting those threes (they make the most triples per game in the country), and if Crowder gets into foul trouble, Florida has a lot of places where they can pour in the points, and the athletes that can pour them.

South

My initial regional final: Kentucky over UNLV (once again, thank you, Runnin’ Rebels)

How good do I still feel about it, on a percentage scale (Kentucky only): 99 percent

I still believe Kentucky has the easiest path to the Final Four.  They face Indiana, which ruined their perfect season with that buzzer-beater earlier in the year and lost its starting point guard, Verdell Jones III, before the tourney started.  John Calipari’s team has revenge on its side and won’t have to worry about his seemingly weakest cog, point guard Marquis Teague, being hounded by the opposing point.  Tom Crean can put a defensive plan in place – witness their comeback against VCU – but do they have the talent to stop the Wildcats?  No.

The ‘Cats will then face either a Xavier club that only recently stopped feeling sorry for itself after the Crosstown Shootout brawl against Cincinnati or a Baylor squad that many people still feel isn’t making the most of their talent.  I have underestimated the Bears, who have looked really good so far, and if Scott Drew orders two of his men on the Musketeers’ Tu Holloway all game, they’ll make the Elite Eight in short order.  But unless Teague forgets how to dribble or co-Player of the Year Anthony Davis gets into foul trouble, Kentucky’s road to a national championship will remain relatively smooth.

Midwest

My initial regional final: North Carolina over Kansas

How good do I still feel about it, on a percentage scale: 80 percent

The second weekend is the time where the national powers stomp the glass slippers of the Cinderellas that have made it this far.  I still expect that to happen.  But what could trip them up?

Well, for the Tar Heels it’s a limp wrist – specifically Kendall Marshall’s non-shooting one.  Last I’ve heard he’s day-to-day, which means (I think) he’s sitting out tonight’s Sweet 16 matchup against Ohio.  It’ll be a devastating blow for Carolina’s title chances, but I think they’ll be fine without him against the Bobcats, who’ll probably need to execute the pick-and-roll to perfection to pull off the upset.  North Carolina has yet to be challenged when punched in the chin, but I can’t see that challenge happening until at least the regional final.

As much as I like Kansas (I found myself siding with the Jayhawks over Missouri during this year’s final installments of the Border War; they have good reasons, but Mizzou ended this great rivalry, not Kansas), their main problem still patrols the sideline.  Their close call against Purdue should be put on the wrong adjustments Bill Self made during the first, oh, 30 minutes of the game.  He has at least two surefire NBA draft picks in the starting lineup and you have to eke out yet another win?  I don’t see on paper how they lose to N.C. St., but according to a man named Andy Cox of blog Crashing The Dance (referred by SI.com’s Luke Winn), the Wolfpack’s Net Efficiency Margin has skyrocketed lately.  That is momentum, and even though momentum isn’t everything, they are facing a ‘Hawks team that may have used up their ninth and final life in just beating the Boilermakers, as you can see on the chart.

Posted by WilliamSou at 5:19 PM

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