So, all I’m hearing since the selection committee finished up is how Syracuse is on serious upset alert. It seems everyone and their sketchy uncle’s pet ferret is picking someone other than the Orange to come out of this region, in a tournament that seems otherwise to be about as chalky as it gets in terms of prognosticating. Is it their lack of success in the tourney historically ( only 2 times past the Sweet 16 since 1990. This keeps blowing my mind, incidentally)? Is it their much discussed inability to protect the defensive glass ( 341 out of 345 Div. 1 teams in Defensive Rebounding %)? Their not-overly-impressive schedule ( only 5 wins over currently ranked teams, and those by an average of 5 points)? Is it Boeheim’s perpetual lemon-sucking hangdog expression ( and who could blame him after the off-the-court year he’s had)? Whatever the case, this might be the least trusted 1-seed with only two losses ( and one of those was without their starting center, mind) in the history of the 64 -team field. Just remember kids, if you’re 30-2 and you do something as poorly as Syracuse defensively rebounds, you must do some other stuff really f-ing well. In this case, it’s defense ( +6 TO margin, 17.8 ppg off of turnovers and the number 2 FG% defense in conference play) and shooting ( first in FG% the Big East). This is a really good team folks, make no mistake, and they have the potential to go very far. Or not. They may very well be facing one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country in defensively minded Kansas State in the second round. Usually teams as good as Syracuse is don't have flaws this big. It makes people nervous. Just ask a Duke fan. ( Note : Since this was written, Syracuse lost Fab Melo, their best rebounder, for the tournament. All of those who were picking them to lose to Vandy, may now feel free pick them to lose to KState).
Similarly, said ferret is also picking the Commodores of Vandy and the Seminoles of FSU as the "chalk busters" here with rampant, ferretlike abandon. Now, this is certainly not without justification ; senior-laden Vandy just vanquished the nearly unvanquishable and was ranked as high as 7 early in the year while even more senior-laden FSU has 2 wins against Duke and UNC respectively. They are both hot at the moment which people loooove when it comes to picking upsets in the tournament (and is about as useful a predictor of tournament performance as whether or not the team bus driver likes to go to Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonalds for his morning coffee). Both are good teams who are playing well, but, Vandy isn’t big and relies heavily on 3’s and offensive guard play. That is not necessarily an ideal formula for beating ‘Cuse and , lest we get ahead of ourselves, Harvard is no slouch, with the 4th best scoring defense in D-1 (holding opponents to 54 points per game - they actually held FSU to 12 in one very painful-to-watch half). And Wisconsin, a potential second round opponent for the Commodores, is first in the nation in scoring defense and seventh in 3 point defense ( 28.9% per game). As for Florida State, while they absolutely lit-up UNC this year, they are a team that is very prone to offensive dry spells (see above:Harvard) and that could be trouble against a Cincinatti team that doesn’t seem to excel at anything except playing tough and hard. The Seminoles are able to boast a stingy defense of their own as well as an outstanding big game player and defender in Michael Snaer, but may be running into a bigger, better mirror in Ohio State in the Sweet 16.
And what about those Buckeyes, eh? It seems, improbably, that this team has been “forgotten” in all of the Vandy/FSU/Syracuse chatter. Some of the shine may have come off when they went 5-3 down the stretch, but all 3 of those losses were against Top 25 teams and were by a total of 12 points. OSU rebounds, plays tough defense, has outstanding wings, a great post-presence in Sullinger, and a very solid point guard in Kraft.Every Duke fan will have them in the Final Four, I promise. West Virginia could certainly give them a second round fight, with Sullinger-clone Kevin Jones in the middle, but it’s hard to imagine Ohio State meeting their fate before the Elite 8.
This is by far the most defensively oriented bracket and consequently the least glamorous. It’s doubtful you’ll see many teams get to 70 points, but you will see a lot of down-to-the-wire contests, which is more than a fair trade from my perspective.
Best First Round Matchup - Vandy versus Harvard. It’s the Harvard of the SEC versus the Harvard of...well, just Harvard. While this would probably produce a great moot court battle, it’s going to be an even better game. Harvard has wins against Utah, FSU, BC, and St.Joe’s this year.
Dark Horse - The obvious choice is Vandy. Just to be different I’ll say Kansas State if only because Frank Martin scares the crap out of me.
The ‘Who?’ Award - Southern Miss. Our old pal Larry Eustachy has (hopefully) put his philandering days behind him and is leaving the co-eds alone at least long enough to lead these guys to the tournament. (And then home again very quickly)
The All-Atlas Squad ( the team-carriers) - Kevin Jones ( WVA) J’Covan Brown ( UT) John Jenkins ( Vandy) Jared Sullinger ( OSU) Jordan Taylor ( Wisc) Andrew Nicholson ( St.Bon)
Upset Special - WVU is currently favored in Vegas by a point, but a 10 beating a 7 is still an upset. Besides, I’m afraid of what Huggy Bear will do if I don’t pick them. This bracket is full of mob-enforcer coaches.Don’t discount Harvard either...
Best Potential Second Round Matchup - KState v ‘Cuse or WVU v OSU. The former has the greater upset potential, but I would expect both games to be very, very tight.
Best Mascot - We’ve got two colors, two bulldogs, and a bearcat ( whatever the hell that is.) in this region. The award, however, goes to the Badgers of Wisconsin. Badger don’t take no shit !!
Worst Mascot - The Bonnies of St.Bonaventure. And I think their school color is brown. Talk about a double whammy.
The Digger Phelps Award ( for names most likely to be mispronounced) - Deividas Dulkys ( FSU) Deniz Kilicli ( WVU) Charlon Kloof ( SB)
The God Shammgodd Award ( for best name) - Wow. This was a toughy this year but due to an abundance of choices instead of the usual dearth. Check these out : Fab Melo ( Syr) - That’s just one of the best names of all time, Festus Ezeli ( Vandy), Cashmere Wright (Cin), Myck Kabongo(UT)
The ‘Why are they here?’ Award - Texas. I mean, why are they here? ( and I'm not talking about the region)
The Home Cooking Award ( for beneficial Geographical Placement) - WVU gets the first two games in Pittsburgh as a 10 seed. Not too shabby.
The Cold Wendy's Fries in the Lobby of the Comfort Inn Award ( for getting screwed, geographically speaking) - Gonzaga is the 7 and has to come across the country to play in the 10 seed’s backyard. That's not nice.
The PittCincyWakeBigTenTeam Award ( for perennial underperformer to avoid picking for a deep run) : I hate to be a sheep here, but if anybody fits this description in this region, it’s Syracuse. Just sayin’.