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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NCAA Predictions

I'm not going to go through a whole bracket, because that's been done before. I'm also not going to pick any wild upsets, because it's hard to predict an upset. Try to pick, say, a #14 beating a #3 is like trying to draw to an inside straight in poker. It's something that a good uncle or grandfather should have told you is not a wise thing to do.

The seedings have been around for a while, long enough that the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee (or whatever it's called) is getting better at getting it right. Last year, each #1 seed made the Final Four, and I believe that's the first time that ever happened. This year, I don't think that's going to happen. Somehow, I think that UConn will falter, and I also am not bullish on Carolina, a program that I admire, even if they were to have a healthy Ty Lawson. UConn misses Jerome Dyson, and Carolina doesn't defend well enough to win. With all that by way of background, I do think that VCU could pull an upset, thereby propelling former Billy Donovan assistant Anthony Grant into the sweepstakes for whatever high-major job comes open. Outside of that, I'm going with the chalk for the most part.

My Final Four consists of Louisville (over West Virginia, an underrated team that fights hard, in the regional final), Memphis (beating UConn), Pitt (over Villanova in the regional final, the significance of which I'll discuss in a moment) and Syracuse (over Carolina, as the Orange's magic carpet ride continues). Then I have Louisville overtaking Memphis, and I have Pitt beating Syracuse, with Pitt defeating Louisville to win the whole thing. The significance regarding a Pitt victory over Villanova is that were this to happen and were Pitt to win the whole thing, it would mark either the fifth time in seven years or the fourth time in the past six years that Villanova would have lost to the eventual national champion. I'm not (that) superstitious, but there is some karma there.

That the Big East is very strong goes without saying. That the Big East might get 3 teams to the Final Four is an eye opener, but still not as headline-grabbing as it was in the mid-1980's, when Georgetown, with Patrick Ewing, St. John's, with Chris Mullin, and Villanova, with Ed Pinckney, all made it to the Final Four in 1985 ('Nova, the lowest seed ever to win the tournament at #8, upset Georgetown in the Finals by shooting 80% in the second half). Then, there wasn't meaningful cable TV, and there weren't nearly as many games on TV as there are today. We all knew of the prime-time players because the tournament -- in certain ways -- was larger than life then that it was now, even if it's larger today in terms of size, attendance and revenue. Which players on any of my Final Four selections are household names? Johnny Flynn of Syracuse? DeJuan Blair of Pitt? Tyreke Evans of Memphis?

Still, the tournament is as gripping as ever, and it usually makes for good theater, especially in the first two days. We'll miss Stephen Curry of Davidson, as his team failed to make the Big Dance. We'll hope for a #16 to beat a #1, or a #15 to beat a #2, but it's been a while since Coppin State pulled the latter and came within a hair of getting to the Sweet 16. How long has it been? 15 years since that happened?

Let the games begin, and let the pace of work slow down just a bit, and let's enjoy our games. It's March Madness, and deep down we're all pulling for a Cornell to beat a Missouri, for a #1 to go down. It's unlikely, but we'll all be watching for that type of upset just the same.


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