[Editor’s Note: This entry comes from our new regular contributor Rob Weldon, who will be giving us UNC news from the sunny confines of California. Take a quick gander at Rob’s bio here, then read some his thoughts on the ACC tourney below.]
The basketball gods must have decided that Pitt has had enough disappointment in the NCAA Tournament, and so gave them a bracket that is full of cream puffs. They have the worst 2 seed in Florida, the worst 3 in BYU and by far the worst 4 in Wisconsin (since the Badgers aren’t going to get to play any games at home as far as I know). Of course the cruel twist is that if Pittsburg does not advance to Houston it will only indemnify them more in the minds of bracket historians. They face a conundrum much like the wailing that followed Duke’s bracket last season: damned if you do, but damend much worse if you don’t.
The difference in the Pitt teams from years past is that this Pitt team is good. Really good, in fact, and absurdly consistent. Their four losses were each respectable and very close games. And their 27 wins were against some really difficult competition, specifically winning the regular season NBA — I mean, Big East title. No, they don’t have the marquee national stars that the other major teams have. They have great balance and an excellent player in Ashton Gibbs.
But enough about the #1 seed, and favorite, from this region. It’s the fact that there aren’t many bonafide sure bets from this region (outside of Pitt) that makes the New Orleans region really intriguing. One could look it over and figure that any of the top 6 seeds could get hot, lucky or just plain cheat their way to the Final Four. Then throw in Butler, Old Dominion, Belmont, the Zags, and either underachieving blueblood UCLA or Michigan State and you’ve got a mess to figure out. This region makes me nervous because so many of these teams were totally inconsistent in their play and performance. Look those names over again and show me a team you’d be really excited to call your fourth Final Four team.
Best First Round Matchup: In trying to make a choice here I kept looking at the list and thinking, “Well that’s almost a coin flip game.” Turns out I’m right. ESPN’s game simulator, which does 10,000 runs for each matchup, has every meaningful game at 57/43 split or closer. (Those are excluding the 1/16, 2/15 and 3/14 games.)
Dark Horse: Commentators are suggesting that Old Dominion has been pretty great this year, plus they’ll be carrying the GMU CAA karma and taking the Butler karma from the first round. It’s all so spiritual really. However, I’m going less Dark for my Dark Horse and suggesting giving Frank Martin, Jacob Pullen and Kansas State a hard look. Since their mini-meltdown in January, they’ve been quite consistent. The cougars managed to win 10 games in a competitive Big 12. Down the final run of games they beat Kansas, Missouri and Texas. We all remember from last year that these guys know how to advance. Plus, don’t you want to see more Frank Martin huddles?
The All-Atlas Squad (guys who can carry their teams): Jimmer Fredette (BYU); Kalin Lucas (Mich St); Ashton Gibbs (Pitt); Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin)
Upset Special: Belmont’s coming to get you, Wisconsin. They’ve got four losses on the season and three came against Tennessee or Vanderbilt, which is nothing to be too embarrassed over. Belmont’s got balanced contributions from nearly 11 players. Yeah, 11 players are averaging 10 minutes or more! I had to read those statistics a few times just to ensure I was not counting incorrectly. They also have big guys in Hedgepeth and Saunders, which can be a real rarity for the mid-majors.
Best Potential Second Round Game: St John’s vs BYU would be more exciting if both teams hadn’t just lost a very important player to ACL surgery and pre-marital sex suspension. So for my money Belmont Utah State would be the best potential game. If both of these teams manage the upset, we’re looking a very interesting Sweet 16 berth for one of them against… Pitt? In addition, both teams are well coached squads with some history and would be quite happy to show that they’re legit.
Best Mascot: I’m a little excited that we have two teams with a rarely used name for a bear: the Bruins (UCLA and Belmont). That alone should just show you how normalized really strange animal synonyms become in college sports. However, UCSB’s Guachos should win. Ah, the romantic South American cowboy known for wrangling the cattle of the pampas! Their chimichurri alone should spice things up, but I don’t see its connections to southern California. Sorry, Santa Barbara, you’ve got a lot going for you, but wouldn’t some surfing archetype be more appropriate?
The All- Digger Phelps Team (names most likely to be mispronounced): Greg Somogyi (UCSB); Keaton Nankivil (Wisconsin); Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga); Josh Smith (UCLA).
God Shammgodd Award (best name): Unfortunately Cameron Rundles of Wofford got mentioned last year, so I don’t feel like I can go to that well again. Instead I would go with the awesome trio from K-State: Rodney McGruder (5th grade bully?), Martavious Irving (love-child of the Most Interesting Man?), and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (going simultaneously for Most Ethnic Combinations and Most Impossible to Fit on the Back of a Jersey Awards)
Home Cookin’ Award (best geographical placement): Everyone knows Butler’s name from last year, but they face an uphill battle against an ODU team in DC playing a short drive away from their Norfolk campus. Curious how the crowd would be for a Pitt/ODU game…
The CincyWakePittBigTenteam award for perennial underperformer to avoid picking for a deep run goes to: If Pitt weren’t clearly the best team in this region, one would be really tempted to suggest their history will hold them down once again. That said, there are several good choices here: Florida (yes, I realize they repeated in the past decade), Gonzaga and Wisconsin. Just have to go with Wisconsin as the favorite of this suspect award. They’ve got tough first and second round matchups.