The quest to find this year's George Mason continues with the East and South regions.
For those of you who missed Wednesday's disclaimer: Where were you! Here it is again: This column is speaking from a position of abject ignorance about college basketball this season, and reminds you never to use the picks found here as a basis for wagering -- even the gambit of betting the other way.
All times EDT, p.m.
(1) North Carolina vs. (16) Eastern Kentucky, 9:40
How cool would this upset be? A bunch of future NBA stars losing to Eastern Kentucky. Well, won't happen, and North Carolina is talented and deep enough to go all the way. But I think they'll stumble against the patient, disciplined Georgetown in the Elite 8.
Second round: Win over Michigan State
(8) Marquette vs. (9) Michigan State, 7:20
Michigan State's had an up-and-down year, but the Spartans are dangerous. They beat Wisconsin when the Badgers were No. 1, and they've also beaten Texas and Indiana. They'll go as far as Drew Neitzel can carry them, which I think is to the second round. Marquette is a fun team to watch, led by dynamic, athletic guards, especially Dominic James. But they'll miss Jerel McNeal, out with a bad thumb, and Michigan State's defense should slow them down some.
Second round: Loss to North Carolina
(5) USC vs. (12) Arkansas, 9:45
We commentariat members carry around a crib sheet with instructions for certain situations. It tells me that for this game, I'm supposed to note that at least one 12 always beats a 5, the SEC is superior to the Pac-10 and Arkansas is playing well of late. Thus, the Razorbacks will advance. But I'm feeling all West Coasty, so I'll take the Trojans. Both teams play solid defense and can get sloppy with the ball, so this could be an ugly one.
Second round: Loss to Texas
(4) Texas vs. (13) New Mexico State, 7:25
I love a team that has a great big guy and a great guard, and Texas has that in dynamite freshmen Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin. The Longhorns lack depth and experience, and Durant still might be bothered by the ankle he twisted in that wild loss to Kansas two weeks ago. They're very dangerous, but they can also be upset. The Aggies are an athletic, pressing team, just the kind of squad that can give a young team fits in the Tournament. But I don't think they have the offensive firepower to take advantage of Texas even if they do wreak some havoc with their press. But it might be a fun game.
Second round: Win over USC
(6) Vanderbilt vs. (11) George Washington, 5:00
I wonder how many people in this great nation are going to pick George Washington to win this game, thinking, "Well, they went on that run last year!" I'm picking them because I never quite believe in Vanderbilt, because the Commodores live by the outside shot, meaning they won't force G.W. into its habitual foul trouble, and because missed 3-pointers turn into long rebounds, which turn into fast breaks, which George Washington likes. Besides, they went on that run last year.
Second round: Loss to Washington State
(3) Washington State vs. (14) Oral Roberts, 2:40
What a turnaround in the Palouse. Washington State finished last in the Pac-10 last year and was supposed to do so this year, but first-year coach Tony Bennett, who succeeded his father, Dick, has performed a near-miracle. The Cougars are making their first Tournament appearance since 1994 and seeking their first win since '83. It's 14-seed Oral Roberts that's the old Tournament hand, having given Memphis a minor scare last year. The Golden Eagles are a veteran squad with two big scorers, Caleb Green and Ken Tutt. They won't be pushed aside easily, but Washington State is going to be one of three Pac-10 teams, it says here, in the Sweet 16.
Second round: Win over George Washington
(7) Boston College vs. (10) Texas Tech, 12:25
I have a bad feeling about this pick because I just don't think Boston College is all that good. But I've found it's never a bad bet to take Bob Knight's opponent come Tournament time, and Jarrius Jackson just isn't enough.
Second round: Loss to Georgetown
(2) Georgetown vs. (15) Belmont, 2:45
If Belmont hits enough threes, it has a puncher's chance. It would really have to hit a silly number of threes. I've got Georgetown going to the Final Four.
Second round: Win over Boston College
East Sweet 16: North Carolina over Texas, Georgetown over Washington State
East Elite 8: Georgetown over North Carolina
(1) Ohio State vs. (16) Central Connecticut State, 7:10
Greg Oden is a college stud center who's going to go No. 1 in the NBA draft and be worth it. And he's just one of three fab freshmen in the OSU starting lineup, though that's a little like saying Diana Ross was just one of three good singers in the Supremes. Whoa, how's that for a hip reference. 23 skiddoo. Anyway, Central Connecticut State is going to get about 10 minutes on CBS outside of Ohio and Connecticut, and the Buckeyes could win the whole thing. I've got them losing in the Championship Game, so that's one thing you know won't happen.
Second round: Win over Xavier
(8) Brigham Young vs. (9) Xavier, 9:30
Xavier is a balanced, experienced, athletic but not rugged team led by former Oklahoma player Drew Lavender. BYU is solid without being spectacular. As usual with an 8-9 game, this figures to be it for the winner.
Second round: Loss to Ohio State
(5) Tennessee vs. (12) Long Beach State, 2:35
Tennessee's another one of those deep, inconsistent, uptempo, pressing, 3-point-shooting teams. Those teams are capable of beating the best and losing to the worst. Long Beach State is also a jump-shooting team, and the 49ers are loaded with seniors, the kind of thing that really helps at this time of year, though if you get to choose between experience and talent, take the talent. Whoever's shots are falling. Says here: Tennessee.
Second round: Win over Virginia
(4) Virginia vs. (13) Albany, 12:15
The cliché about the NCAA Tournament is that strong guard play is the most important factor. Most clichés are true. Not this one. Strong guard play and no good big men? See ya. You won't find a better pair of guards playing together than Sean Singletary and R.J. Reynolds. See 'em in this game or the next one. After that: See ya.
Second round: Loss to Tennessee
(6) Louisville vs. (11) Stanford, 12:40
I don't know why but I've got this feeling about Louisville. They're hot lately, which doesn't necessarily mean anything at Tournament time, and besides that there's really not much to recommend them other than a tough defense. Maybe I'm feeling warm about them because they're playing Stanford, which I'd say doesn't belong in the Tournament no matter where I'd gone to college.
Second round: Win over Texas A&M
(3) Texas A&M vs. (14) Penn, 3:00
A&M has enough good players that it's not just the Acie Law show, but the Aggies will only go as far as Law can carry them. He can carry them to the Sweet 16, but I just have a hunch about those Cardinals.
Second round: Loss to Louisville
New Orleans, Friday
(7) Nevada vs. (10) Creighton, 2:50
Nevada gets good guard play and has the big stud in Tournament vet Nick Fazekas, who can play inside and out. The Wolf Pack aren't a bad team, but the days of them sneaking up on people are over. Last year, Nevada got snuck, bit by the 12-over-5 bug in a loss to Montana. Creighton, like Nevada, has had better teams in recent years.
Second round: Loss to Memphis
(2) Memphis vs. (15) North Texas, 12:30
Memphis fattened up on a soft schedule, but you know, sometimes really good teams play a soft schedule, and Memphis is a really good team. They're athletic, they have a bunch of guys who can score, they play nasty defense and they're deep enough that they can play with energy for 40 minutes. I think they'll go exactly as far as their seed says they should.
Second round: Win over Nevada
South Sweet 16: Ohio State over Tennessee, Memphis over Louisville
South Elite 8: Ohio State over Memphis
Final Four: Kansas over Oregon, Ohio State over Georgetown
Championship Game: Kansas over Ohio State
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Pool o' Experts [PERMALINK]
Continuing a wheezing schtick -- I mean, a tradition unlike any other -- this column will conduct the fifth annual NCAA Tournament Pool o' Experts, featuring the brackets of various national typists and chatterers whose brackets are pretty easy to find online, plus the NCAA selection committee, yours truly, my largely theoretical son Buster, the coin-flippinest 4-year-old this side of the child labor laws, and if there's a porn star who makes a bracket public, he or she is in.
The defending champion is Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated, the magazine whose hubris started this whole thing. Other past winners, all of whom are entitled to dinner at my house, which is why I'm planning to move:
People always want to know Buster's picks, so I'll give them to you.
Buster used to just flip for all games, but after he had East Tennessee State winning the whole thing one year, I changed his methodology. It's now ridiculously complicated for such a stupid exercise, but basically, he takes all heavy favorites in the first round and flips for everything else, with two or three consecutive flips needed to pick heavy underdogs. Send me an e-mail if you need more detail than that, but first send one to your therapist.
Thanks to an incredible series of "heads" flips, Buster's got a lot of favorites winning. The upset winners he's picking in the first round are Winthrop in the Midwest and Xavier in the South. That's it. His second-round upset winners are Butler in the Midwest, USC and Vanderbilt in the East and Louisville in the South.
In the Sweet 16 he has Butler beating Maryland, Oregon beating Wisconsin and Virginia beating Ohio State, with all other 1- and 2-seeds winning. His Final Four is Oregon, Kansas, Georgetown and Memphis, and he has Memphis beating Oregon in the Championship Game.
It's a pretty uneccentric bracket. I'd bet on it beating mine. Of course, he already gets dinner at my house.
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Running commentary [PERMALINK]
This column will offer running commentary on the games as they happen Thursday and Friday. Check back throughout both days.
Previous column: Preview, Part 1
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