March Madness: Fantasy Bracket Poll
Everybody in the pool! You too, LeBron. In SIOC's second annual What If? tournament, we imagine what the bracket would look like if high school players weren't allowed to enter the NBA early and instead went to college for four years. Last year, you voted for Carmelo Anthony and the 'Cuse over a Tony Parker and Tyson Chandler-led UCLA squad in the finals. This year, Mello and G-Mac defend their title against like Chris Paul (Wake Forest), Chris Bosh (Georgia Tech) and Andrew Bogut (Utah), who would still be in school, as well as stud pups like Dwight Howard (North Carolina), Sebastian Telfair (Louisville) and Amare Stoudamire (Memphis), who we assigned to teams they most likely would have landed on, as well as early entries. Quit dreaming and vote!
Atlanta Regional, Round 1
Adds: Luol Deng ('07), Shaun Livingston ('08) Shavlik Randolph ('06)
The Blue Devils have been a huge surprise all season, and would get better by inserting Livingston and Randolph in the starting lineup and relegating freshmen Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts to the bench. Deng likes to do the dirty work and can score without demanding too many touches. Shelden Williams (18 points, 10 rebounds) is one of the nation's top big men. Duke's success will depend on JJ Redick. If he plays as brilliantly, the Blue Devils will be unbeatable. If he struggles, it may force role players such as Lee Melchionni (6 points) and Sean Dockery (8) to pick up the slack, which could result in a surprise exit for the Dookies.
Don't sleep on the Jaguars. First-year coach Rob Spivery's bunch surprised teams all season on the way to their first SWAC Title in 13 years. Their bedrock is tough defense and the strong play of seniors Chris Alexander (16 points) and Peter Cipriano (10 points, 8 rebounds). Could this be enough to pull of a couple upsets?
Center Nick Fazekas got all the pub (21.8 points, 10.3 rebounds) for the Wolfpack, but Marcelus Kemp (14.4 points) and sharpshooter Kyle Shiloh (47% 3-pt) are reliable second and third options for a team that had an NCAA tourney win last year. This year's squad, with a win over Kansas in Lawrence, showed they are the MVC squad most capable of balling with the big boys.
The Jaywhawks, who led the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.366), are short on experience but long on athleticism with all five starters being freshman or sophomores. Leading scorer/Big 10 Freshman of the Year Brandon Rush (13.6 points) and athletic freak Julian Wright's (.559 FG%) dramatic improvement combined with steady backcourt mates Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers to turn the Jayhawks from midseason pretenders to contenders.
Adds: Erazem Lorbeck ('06)
European Lorbek (6-10) combined with Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager and Paul Davis to give point guard Drew Neitzel four legitimate scoring options and make Marquise Gray's season-ending broken foot a footnote. Still, Coach Tom Izzo's relentless man-to-man defense seems to have the talented Spartans running on fumes as they enter the tournament.
The Flashes may have the best chance for a first-round upset of any double-digit seed. The key is their ability to push the tempo with senior guards Jay Youngblook and DeAndre Hayes leading the charge. The Flashes boast the MAC's top sixth man, senior Kevin Warzynski, who averaged 10 points and six rebounds per game. This team won't be intimidated by the big stage. Four seniors were part of the '02 run to the Elite Eight. The biggest weakness is lack of size. If they can get easy baskets in transition and avoid a half-court game, another deep run is not out of the question.
Adds: Nate Robinson ('06), Martell Webster ('09)
With Nate Robinson, the NBA's slam dunk champ, the Huskies become one of the favorites. A year after nabbing the Pac-10 title and a No.1 seed, they are still a force, thanks to seniors Brandon Roy, Jamaal Williams and Bobby Jones. Roy blossomed into the most versatile player in the conference, ranking first in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.82-to-1), second in scoring (19.6), fourth in assists (4.14) and field goal percentage (50.9), fifth in free throw shooting (81.9), eighth in steals (1.34), 10th in blocks (0.83) and 11th in rebounding (5.8). The Huskies used their up-tempo game to put up 82.7 points per game, third best in the country, and won by an average of 13.8.
Most college basketball fans haven't heard of Steve Burtt and Ricky Soliver, but the senior duo represents the nation's highest scoring guard tandem (41.3, nearly three points higher than Villanova's Randy Foye and Allan Ray). They put the explosive Gaels in the top 20 in scoring offense (80.4), FG percentage (.484) and three-point FG percentage (.411). Burtt averaged 25 points per game this season, sixth best in the nation. Soliver averaged 16.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.7 steals per game.
Adds: Al Jefferson ('08), Olu Famutimi ('07)
Al Jefferson's dramatic improvement in the post turned the Razorbacks from a one dimensional team led by Ronnie Brewer (18.5 points) to a well-balanced Hog with two legitimate stars. The Bobby Knight-style motion offense helps get Jonathon Modica (.359 3-pt) good looks, but the lack of a true point guard may be their downfall.
After beating NC State, Syracuse, West Virginia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the Pirates finished with 18 wins, good for seventh in the Big East. Seton Hall is led by the senior guard - center combo of 5-10 Donald Copeland (15.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists) and 6-8 Kelly Whitney (15.5, 7.9. 1.3) who emerged as one of the top inside-outside combinations during Big East play. Whitney had four double-doubles, and 10 games of 20-plus points. Copeland ranked third in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.65) and was one of the league's top foul shooters at 84.5 percent.
The Wildcats boast the best guards in the country and are led by seniors Randy Foye (20.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists), the Big East Player of the Year, and Allan Ray (19.1, 4.0, 1.5) who were among the Big East leaders in scoring, three-point field goals per game, and free throw percentage. The only problem with coach Jay Wright's squad is that they are fairly small. The tallest guy in his main rotation is 6-9 forward Jason Frasier. That didn't slow the Cats (24-3), who won a share of the Big East Championship.
The Demons enter the tournament fresh off their best regular performance in 30 years. Senior forward Clifton Lee (14 points, 6 rebounds) has been the team's leader all season, but the player most coaches fear is senior point guard Tyronn Mitchell, the Demons career leader in steals (252), whose ability to pressure the ball creates havoc for opposing point guards.
Adds: Kennedy Winston ('06)
The Tide appear to have run out of gas, losing to underachieving Mississipi State in the regular season finale and mustering only 47 points against Kentucky in their SEC Tournament loss. Winston set the tone during his days in Birmingham and would make sure the Tide were ready come tournament time. If Jermareo Davidson (14 points, 9 rebounds) and Ronald Steele (14 points) heat up, the Tide could roll again.
Despite falling in the MVC title game, the Panthers (23-9) still had a stellar season with wins over Iowa and Bucknell. They are led by senior guard Ben Jacobson (14.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists), who was named to the U.S. Basketball Writers of America All District VI team. The Panthers pack a 1-2 forward punch of Grant Stout (12.1 points, 8.9 rebounds) and Eric Coleman (11.7 points, 7.1 points).
Adds: LeBron James ('07)
Can we start salivating at how sick this team will be next season with King James and high school phenom Greg Oden? For now, we'll just shake our heads at what the seventh-ranked Buckeyes would have with Bron-Bron and Big Ten Player of the Year Terence Dials (15.4 points, 8 rebounds). Despite their lack of size – no player is taller than 6-foot 9-inches – the Buckeyes ran teams off the court with the best guard quartet in the nation. Je'Kel Foster, Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler and J.J. Sulinger combined for 44.5 points, 17.5 rebounds and 10.8 assists per game as OSU outscored opponents by an average margin of 12.4 points.
The Quakers have been a nice story, but they'll need a Jordan-esque performance from guards Ibrahim Jaaber and Mark Zoller to have any chance. The 6-7 Zoller averaged 8 rebounds per game this season, but how does a stud rebounding guard in the Ivy League do when he faces less intellectual, but more physical opposition? We'll soon find out.
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