A look at tournament field region by region (cont.)
People (including myself) have been doubting Louisville all season, but the Cardinals keep answering every test, including when they reached the finals of the Big East tournament. I love Kenneth Faried as much as the next guy (unless that guy is Luke Winn), but Morehead State's guards are going to be overwhelmed by Louisville's pressing D. I was also tempted to move USC into the second round via a win over slumping Georgetown, and the more I revisit my bracket, the more I wish I had. I guess I'm banking that Georgetown is going to get the lift it so badly needs with senior guard Chris Wright returning from an injury to his left (non-shooting) hand.
It seems like the entire state of Indiana has been clamoring for a game between Purdue and Notre Dame, and they could well get it in the Sweet 16. I'd even be up for moving this game out of San Antonio so it could be played in Hinkle Fieldhouse. This was a tough call, but I went with Purdue for two reasons. First, with all due respect to Ben Hansbrough, Purdue would have the best two players on the court in JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Second, Notre Dame's primary advantage is its all-senior starting lineup, but Purdue is equally dependent on upperclassmen. Plus, Purdue actually gets better defensively when Matt Painter goes to his bench, which is unusual.
The main reason I picked Kansas to win the national championship last year was that it had an unquestioned leader in senior point guard Sherron Collins. That, however, turned out to be a problem against Northern Iowa. Collins was horrible, but coach Bill Self had nowhere else to turn. That won't be the case this time around. If Tyshawn Taylor starts playing out of control -- and he will at some point -- Self can simply yank the kid and bring in Elijah Johnson. In Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar, Self can turn to two seniors who can both run the offense, create plays for teammates, defend and make shots. Self has the same luxury of mixing and matching in the frontcourt, and the Morris twins are as gifted as any players in this tournament. The bottom line is that Kansas has more talented top to bottom than any other team in America. The only question is whether the Jayhawks will play up to their potential. I think they will, which is why they're my pick to win the whole shebang.
Everywhere I've turned the last 24 hours, I've heard or read some expert describe the Southeast as the easiest of the four regions and an obvious cakewalk for Pittsburgh. Yet I made my case on the CBS Selection Show that I saw a number of teams in this region that were well-positioned to pull upsets. It pained me to see Butler paired against Old Dominion in the second round because they were both schools I planned to jump on to predict a few upsets. I picked ODU to win the game because I think the Monarchs can match Butler's physicality but are better able to score some easy points. And I went with ODU to pull off the upset over Pitt because this is one of the few teams in the tournament, mid-major or not, that can bang with the Panthers on the boards. Old Dominion and Pitt are ranked 1-2 in the nation in rebound margin -- in that order. The Monarchs played in the last two NCAA tournaments, and last year they beat Notre Dame. If they played 10 times I'm guessing Pitt would win seven of them, but in the NCAA tournament it only takes one time. It says here this will be that one for Old Dominion.
You won't see a bigger contrast in styles than the game between Belmont and Wisconsin. Bruins coach Rick Byrd has an 11-man rotation that he shuffles in and out in an effort apply defensive pressure and wear the other team out. On offense, the Bruins like to spread you and bury three-pointers, but unlike a lot of teams at their level they have a couple of serviceable big men in 6-10 junior Scott Saunders and 6-9 junior Mick Hedgepeth. Wisconsin has a stellar point guard in Jordan Taylor who should presumably be able to handle that pressure, but the Badgers are going to be without Mike Bruesewitz, a.k.a. Carrot Top, who is a valuable scorer and rebounder off the bench. Finally, we all know the Badgers are a vastly more beatable team outside of Madison. I think Belmont could be this year's Cornell, so I'm taking the chance.
Like you, I would love to see The Jimmer shoot his way to Houston, but it's evident that this is a very different team without suspended big man Brandon Davies. I was willing to give the Cougars a mulligan after they got blown out at home by New Mexico, but they looked unimpressive in the Mountain West tournament, where they had to struggle to get by TCU and then got blown out by San Diego State. It's not that Davies was such a great player, it's that he was the only player on this team who did the things he did -- namely scoring, defending and rebounding in the post. That means less inside-out action to get Fredette and Jackson Emery their open looks, and fewer offensive rebounds when they miss. Whether BYU plays St. John's or Gonzaga in the second round, I think it will be Fredette's final game as a collegian. If that happens, it will be hard to bid him goodbye.
(Let me add one caveat to my BYU analysis: The biggest thing they have in their favor is the fact that this game is being played in Denver. Players and coaches who have competed at high altitude will tell you they were very much affected by it. Since BYU is in a high altitude in Provo its players will be much more acclimated. If The Jimmer is the Cougars' lethal weapon, the altitude is their secret weapon.)
I was surprised that Florida did not compete better with Kentucky in the SEC final. It's no crime to lose that game but to get manhandled like that has to make a team question its confidence. Fortunately for the Gators, there are no racehorse teams like Kentucky in this region, and if my upset premonitions come to pass then their path will have been cleared of Pitt. (For the record, if Pitt does meet Florida in the regional final, I'm almost certain I'd pick the Panthers. That would be a bad matchup for the Gators.) You always have to be suspicious of Florida's guard play, but the Gators hit their stride once they realized their point guard was 6-10 senior forward Chandler Parsons. That's not to say Parsons literally plays the point and I wouldn't even describe him as a point forward, but this team is at its best when the offense runs through him. (He leads Florida in rebounds and steals.) The Gators' talent sometimes leave me underwhelmed, but there's a reason they won the SEC East by three games. It says here they've got more winning to do, and their season will end in Houston.
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