If you’re like me, you start sweating the first time through an NCAA Tournament bracket. You’re trying to pick which No. 12 will upset the No. 5, considering who’s hot and who’s not, balancing stars and key injuries. It’s a mind-numbing process, but one I’ll willing to go through over and over just for bragging rights. This is my first tournament bracket of the year. I think a few picks were swayed by the “experts” busy screaming on ESPN even still as I type this. (I think Digger is going to stab someone with his highlighter.) Here’s the method to my Final Four selections:
- I couldn’t resist taking No. 12 Arizona over No. 5 Utah. It’s part of my “Who? Factor.” If you can name multiple star players on one team (Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill from Arizona) but none on the other, you choose the team with the stars. Stars matter.
- I’m not convinced No. 3 Kansas has the offense to make a run.
- No. 1 Louisville is hot, but I think they won the Big East Tournament by luck of the draw.
- I’ve liked No. 4 Wake Forest all year with point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Al-Farouq Aminu — both of whom should be lottery picks in the NBA Draft.
Final Four Pick: Wake Forest. Battle-hardened by the ACC. And if we learned anything by Derrick Rose and Memphis last year, it was the importance of a do-it-all point guard. Demon Deacons have Jeff Teague, who brings the same game.
- No. 11 Utah State will wallop a deflated No. 6 Marquette. The Golden Eagles are a mediocre team without Dominic James. They play with heart, but they no longer have the talent.
- No. 10 Maryland over No. 7 California. One reason: Greivis Vasquez. Some games, he’s Mighty Mouse. Others, Minnie Mouse. I like a big first-round game for Vasquez. Plus, I have no faith in Pac-10 teams this year. It was easily the softest major conference this year.
- No. 1 UCONN is impressive, but is there a hotter team in the country than No. 2 Memphis? Riding a 25-game win streak, I can see coach John Calipari taking care of unfinished business from last season. This year’s Tigers squad plays air-tight defense, and defense doesn’t go cold. Substance beats style in March.
FINAL FOUR PICK: Memphis. Haunted by the memory of that horrible free-throw shooting performance in last year’s national championship game, the Tigers seek vengeance. Their the hottest team in the country, and aside from a potential Elite Eight matchup with UCONN, they have an easy road ahead.
- My beloved No. 12 Wisconsin stands no chance against No. 5 Florida State. That could be a very lop-sided loss. The Badgers simply don’t have the athleticism to beat the Seminoles. However, never underestimate Bo Ryan.
- No. 8 Oklahoma State and No. Tennessee are a push. You could swap those seeds without either team complaining. Still, No. 9 beats No. 8 in the only first-round “upset” in this region.
- No. 1 Pittsburgh will surely face No. 2 Duke or No. 3 Villanova. That’s three very good teams from the region, each with the potential to reach the Final Four. I like Pitt because they’re a bigger team that can outrebound anyone. DeJuan Blair’s stock is really gonna rise this month.
FINAL FOUR PICK: Pitt. The big X-factor is senior point guard Levance Fields. At 10.7 pgg and 7.6 apg, Fields provides a veteran handle for a team that relies on frontcourt scoring from Blair (15.6 ppg) and forward Sam Young (18.7 ppg).
- Losing lockdown guard Chester Frazier means No. 5 Illinois faulters against No. 12 Western Kentucky. You can’t lose a defensive player like that and expect to go on unaffected. Or, to even go on.
- I would give anything to see No. 3 Syracuse get upset in the first round by No. 14 Stephen F. Austin. I can’t stand Eric Devendorf. If the NCAA had any good sense, they would bring Mr. Devendorf in for a discussion on sportsmanship.
- I would like to see Tyler Hansbrough hoist the trophy for No. 1 North Carolina. End all the talk about what kind of pro he’ll be. That’s not what college basketball should be about. He’s been one of the best college basketball players ever when you look at his full body of work. The game will miss him. He may go the way of Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick and fade into NBA obliviou, but what a career. UNC falls to No. 2 Oklahoma in the Elite Eight. Hansbrough vs. Blake Griffin is nothing short of an epic.
FINAL FOUR PICK: Oklahoma. Silly as it seems, I’m picking the Sooners based solely upon Blake Griffin. (OK, and Willie Warren.) Sooners haven’t been the steadiest throughout the year, but you don’t win brackets by making the safe bets.