I am Orso'Grande. Draw close, children, and listen with care. I will tell you what you need to know about this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament to sound smart.
This year the selection committee did a poor job with the mid majors, inviting two fewer than last year. To add insult to injury, they then scheduled Butler and Old Dominion – both teams that could be this year’s George Mason – to play each other in the first round. Good going, morons.
And if the plebs have been treated most foully, the royalty has its own problems. This year’s No. 1 seeds have their work cut out for them.
Florida, for example, will be rooting for Purdue to win their first-round game against Arizona; else the Gators get the Wildcats in the second round. And that would mean facing a Hall of Fame coach, and an oddly underachieving, over-talented, Arizona squad. Where Purdue is a solid #9 seed, Arizona has the talent of a #2 or #3, and if Lute can get them to play, Florida is in trouble.
Kansas, on the other hand, has a different problem. No matter which set of Wildcats is their second-round opponent (the Kentucky variety or the Villanova species), the Jayhawks may have trouble, but particularly so if those from east of the Appalachians show up. In contrast to Arizona, Villanova is an overachieving team on the rise, with a freshman point guard (Scottie Reynolds) entirely capable of dropping 40 points on you, no matter how distinguished your hoops lineage. And he’s supported by the inside/outside play of 5th year senior Curtis Sumpter. Should ‘Nova advance, then look for Kansas to be in a dog fight (a cat fight?). Should Kansas make it to the round of eight, their slated to meet UCLA a team that, for the second year in a row, won’t have to leave California to make it to the Final Four.
North Carolina doesn’t much care whether their second-round date is Marquette or Michigan State, since either dance partner pairs them with a team that has great guard play and good outside shooters, both qualities that make that game an upset waiting to happen. But if the Tar Heels escape, they’re likely to find Texas, led by runaway Player-of-the-Year Kevin Durant, leading a tough Texas team. (And, no, much as the Gentleman Farmer might like to see it otherwise, Texas won’t be upset by New Mexico State, unless Reggie Theus suits up for the Aggies.)
Ohio State also has a difficult time with potential games against Tennessee, a team that also shoots the lights out from long range, and perhaps a later matchup against Texas A & M, effectively at home in San Antonio.
One other thing to remember is that a team’s seeding – like a woman’s age – is just a number. And that’s particularly true in this year’s tournament, where Southern Illinois, Maryland and Virginia are all #4 seeds. Does anyone believe any of those teams play on the same level as Durant & Co. down at Texas? Let’s instead compare UVa to #7-seeded UNLV.
The Cavaliers played only the 11th hardest schedule in the (unbalanced scheduled) ACC, and still went 2 and 3 in their last five games, with losses to NC State, Wake Forest, and Miami. Only State is still playing, and they’re in the NIT. While we’ve seen flashes of brilliance from their guards, Singletary and Reynolds, their inside play is extremely weak. And, looking closer, you’ll find that their best player (Reynolds) shoots less than 40% from the field. This is a team with losses to Appalachian State, to Stanford (at University Hall) and by no less than 24 to Utah. The only impressive road win the Cavs have was in College Park over the Terrapins.
UNLV, on the other hand, finished in the top 15 in the R.P.I, won at Texas Tech, won at Nevada and beat BYU twice. And those three teams are now doing what? They’re all still playing, seeded 10, 7, and 8, respectively.
All that being said, we should be in for a great tournament, filled with upsets because of teams that have been seeded too high, while others have been seeded too low. The team to take against the field, of course, is Florida, looking to repeat as national champions. And the two players who clearly have the most on their shoulders are Alando Tucker from Wisconsin, who has been struggling lately, and Kevin Durant, who must carry his team every game in order for the Longhorns to make a run.
Looking to sweeten your brackets and amaze your friends by picking the upsets you need to get ahead in your office pool? You’ve come to the right place.
This year’s biggest first round upset will be Albany over UVA.
Other plausible major (more than a 10 vs. 7) upsets:
#13 Davidson over #4 Maryland
#11 Winthrop over #6 Notre Dame
#12 Illinois over #5 Va Tech
#11 VCU over #6 Duke
#12 Arkansas over #5 USC
#11 Stanford over #6 Louisville
Want to know who'll still be around and playing a week from tomorrow, in the round of 16? Stay tuned -- I might just tell you.