It’s the middle of March and only a couple things are for sure. First, T-shirt weather one day might easily turn into snowmobile weather the next. Second, the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament has arrived. Here at the Varsity sports section, we’ve decided to run a game of our own (see bracket) to see who will be crowned 2002 Bracket City guru.
Below is a breakdown of the four regions according to what we think might become of this three-week march to Atlanta.
This region looks like the tournament committee had one thing in mind: “How can we get Duke back to the Final Four?” Well, you stick a Southeastern Conference team (Alabama) as the number two seed and a Big East team with a gimpy star (Pittsburgh, co-Big East Player of the Year Brandin Knight) as the number three seed, and you’re more than halfway there. Okay. The Tide advanced to their conference title game before losing to Mississippi State (who?). But they beat Tennessee (who?) and South Carolina (who?) on their way there. If you’re wondering what the “who’s” mean, they are teams that when you talk about schools with a chance of going anywhere in the postseason and someone says their name, everyone kinda stops and says, “__?” Exactly.
Pittsburgh has as good a chance of getting to the Final Four without a healthy Knight as any of us have of getting every single pick in this darn thing right. Sorry, Panthers, just the facts.
(8) Notre Dame vs. (9) Charlotte
The Fighting Irish (21-10) played their way up to an eight seed by getting to the semifinals of the Big East tournament and scaring the Huskies into a closer-than-expected 82-77 win. They’ll rely on Mr. Everything Ryan Humphrey to keep their pulse going until they hit a battering ram in the second round.
Charlotte (18-11) has had an interesting season that has seen them beat Marquette (26-6) and lose to Saint Louis (15-16). Whether or not they make it to the second round slaughterhouse will depend on how badly senior guard Jobey Thomas wants to tell his friends that he got to guard Duke’s Jason Williams.
(10) Kent State over
(7) Oklahoma State
The Golden Flashes (27-5) are seeded tenth for one reason and one reason only. Their conference sucks. Don’t blame them for that. Aside from a hiccup at Buffalo, the Mid-American conference champions have been on a 24-game tear (including an 81-54 victory over Ball State, who beat Kansas earlier in the season). Senior guard Trevor Huffman (16.1ppg, 4.4apg) will see to it that they eat up anything in their way early on.
The Cowboys (23-8) got hammered 73-51 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tourney by Texas Tech, making that two losses (Missouri) in their past three games.
Final Four representative:
These Devils (29-3) have lost Shane Battier from last year’s championship squad, but that void has been filled by quality players like Dahntay Jones. Increased aggressiveness from Mike Dunleavy (17.4 ppg) has helped lessen the offensive load on Jason Williams. With no significant obstacles in their way (yes, Trojans) the Dukies should be in Atlanta at the end of the month.
Although the Midwest is not as deep as the West, there are some very strong teams, particularly in the higher seeds, which should make for some very good matchups. The obvious favourite coming into the tournament is Kansas, but other teams have the potential to turn in strong performances. Mississippi State, Illinois and Oregon all look like they will have strong tournaments, with potential surprises from upstarts like Western Kentucky and Pepperdine.
(5) Florida vs. (4) Illinois
The best early matchup should come when Illinois meets Florida in the second round. After starting with 13 straight victories, the Gators looked like they were headed for big things until they stumbled and finished off with some tough losses. Illinois simply looked like a big disappointment, with only four wins in its first nine. But the Illini won eight straight games to end the season and split the Big 10 title with three other teams. Although the Gators are stronger inside, the Illini will rely on junior guard Frank Williams to lead them to a meeting with Kansas at the regional finals.
(11) Boston College over (6) Texas
Few people thought the Eagles would have this bad a year, after a Big East Championship and a first-round tournament victory in 2000-2001. They won 20 games with a major conference schedule, including two against Miami, while crippled with injuries to Troy Bell and Ryan Sydney for part of the season. The Eagles may have lost three of their last 10, but Texas went five and five with a couple of bad losses. Texas is playing closer to home in Dallas, but the Eagles have a lot of talent, and the tournament is the perfect time to show what they can do with it.
Final Four representative:
While Mississippi State and Oregon had impressive seasons in the SEC and Pac-10 respectively, the strongest team in the Midwest is Kansas. Despite ending a 15-game winning streak by losing to Oklahoma in the Big-12 tournament final, the Jayhawks won the Big-12 regular season title with a 16-0 conference record. Drew Gooden is having a great year, as are Kansas guards Hinrich and Boschee. Mississippi State might be a problem, but they lack the free-throw shooting and the perimeter game to match the deepest team in the Midwest. —Craig Allan
Ah yes, the East. My favorite of all the regions. This might have something to do with the fact that I was raised in Silver Spring, MD. But enough about me, on with the analysis.
(4) Kentucky vs. (13) Valparaiso.
The thirteenth-seeded Crusaders (25-7) enter this game as one of the most confident double-digit seeds in the field. The Mid-Continent regular season and conference tournament champions are riding a four-game winning streak and have a history of scaring the Big Boys. Meanwhile, Kentucky (20-9) is coming off an early exit in the Southeastern Conference tournament at the hands of subpar South Carolina. Valpo won’t let Tubby Smith and the ‘Cats get away easily in this one.
(14) Murray State over
Georgia (21-9) shouldn’t be seeded this high. They’ve collected wins over quality teams like Pepperdine (22-8) and Florida (22-8), but the Gators don’t bring their A-game out often. Add in the fact they’ve lost their last two in unimpressive fashion to lightweights Tennessee (15-16) and LSU (18-14), and this has all the makings of an early ouster. Murray State (19-12) knocked off the top two seeds in their conference tournament to earn the Ohio Valley Conference title as the third seed. Led by senior guard Justin Burdine, the Racers won’t be overwhelmed by the grand stage or the opponent.
Final Four representative: (1)Maryland
Fear the turtle. Yes, the Terrapins (26-4) are coming off an ugly 86-82 semifinal loss to NC State in their conference tournament. Yes, it broke a 13-game winning streak. However, a loss is just what they needed to regain focus on what it will take to win the tournament that really counts. The two through four seeds (Connecticut, Georgia, and Kentucky) should consider themselves lucky if they escape the first two rounds. The toughest competition for Maryland should end up being St. John’s (20-11) in the second round or Marquette (26-6) in the third. The Johnnies took out the Terps three years ago during the Ron Artest-Steve Francis era and might still have a mental edge. The Golden Eagles are coming off a tough Conference USA title game loss to Cincinnati and will have the motivation to end their year on a positive note, with Super Sophomore Dwayne Wade leading the way.
Best matchup: (3) Arizona vs. (6) Gonzaga
Okay, so we’re cheating here a little bit because this is a potential second-round showdown, but with all due respect to Wyoming and UC Santa Barbara, this matchup will happen. While the Wildcats are better at the run-and-gun offence than the Bulldogs, with dynamite open court players like Jason Gardner, Luke Walton and Salim Stoudamire, Gonzaga should win the battle of the boards led by big men Zach Gourde and Cory Violette.
Upset special: (12) Missouri over (5) Miami
The Hurricanes came flying out of the gate with a 14-0 start, but have since faded. The Tigers have been a season-long underachiever, but with a supremely talented backcourt of Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert, plus defensive intimidator Arthur Johnson in the paint, they are dangerous. Also, it’s worth noting the ‘Canes get almost no bench production and are prone to offensive droughts. Neither team should go beyond round two, but Mizzou’s potent offence should get them one win.
Underdog that could go far:
One of the players to watch could be Musketeers power forward David West, who can score inside and out, block shots, and fill the highlight reels. Difference between this year and last is terrific play from backcourt duo of Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato, making the X-Men a versatile squad. Xavier-Oklahoma in the second round should be a doozy.
Final Four representative: Gonzaga
Once again, the Zags get no respect, but that fuels this team. Player of the year candidate Dan Dickau leads a clutch team that relishes the underdog role. Don’t rule out the top seeded Bearcats who drew the more favourable top half of this regional section, but they lack the firepower of the other contenders. The Bulldogs can beat you inside or out, a claim I’m not sure a team like Arizona can make. In the toughest region in the field a Bulldogs team that will have the crowd on its side is the team to beat.