2013 NCAA Tournament Discussion & Preview: Establishing the Favorites

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A discussion between Barking Carnival's two basketball idiot savants, JC25 & Tjarks, on the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

What follows is comprehensive discussion on the NCAA Tournament between two of Barking Carnival's finest. Click here for the full series.

JC25: So even though the Texas Longhorns are two tournaments removed from the Big Dance, let's talk NCAA Tournament. This year should be more interesting than most, at least from a "fill out the brackets" perspective. There are about 12 teams that I think could make the Final Four, let alone win the whole shebang. And about half of them are in Midwest's "Bracket of Death" (only half-kidding here).

In addition, the lack of star power in college basketball overall means parity is very possible. For example, I think Georgetown could either win 6 games in a row or lose in the first--err, second--round. Let's start with who I think are my "Magic 12" and maybe you can help me narrow it down from there.

The 1 seeds: Louisville Cardinals, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Kansas Jayhawks, Indiana Hoosiers
Other pre-season favorites: Duke Blue Devils, Michigan St. Spartans, Ohio St. Buckeyes, Florida Gators
Season surprises: Georgetown Hoyas, Miami Hurricanes
Mid-major I know close to nothing about: New Mexico Lobos
My darkhorse: Oklahoma St. Cowboys

That's not even a comprehensive list. It doesn't contain Syracuse or Michigan, two teams that would have garnered "#1 team in the country votes" in late-January. Nor does it contain KenPom "stat geek" sleepers Pittsburgh or Wisconsin. Heck, maybe a talented mid-major like UNLV or Creighton that has "best player on the court" status in most games will make a run.

So have I missed anybody? What are your thoughts on narrowing this daunting field down to a series of educated guesses that will help us win our bracket challenges?

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Tjarks: It's funny, ever year we hear that "there are no dominant teams in college basketball", but this year it's actually true. I remember people saying that last season when UNC and Kentucky combined to have 8 of the 30 first-round picks in the NBA Draft and were pretty much head and shoulders over the rest of the country, but I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day. All of the top teams have at least one significant weakness that could potentially knock them out fairly early. This feels like a year when anyone could win it all, which I guess means almost anyone can win your office pool.

Louisville and Indiana are the chic picks to win it all, but I don't think either is enough of a favorite that you would want to pick them in your bracket. They're as good as anyone else, but in a year this wide open, you might as well try to go with a more left-field pick. "Russdiculous" (a.k.a., Russ Smith) runs a lot of good bits, but I'm not trusting a team to win six games in March with him making crucial decisions in the final two minutes. The Hoosiers, meanwhile, are the most talented team in the country, but they can really struggle if they play against a team who can get them into a grind-it-out game in the half-court, a la Wisconsin or Ohio State, both of whom beat them at Assembly Hall this season.

The two mid-major dark horses I really like are New Mexico and St. Louis, although really, the MWC and the A-10 were about as good as any Power 6 conference this season. They are experienced teams that play great defense with bigs who can shoot the ball and guards who won't turn it over. The Lobos have two guards--Kendall Williams and Tony Snell--who can take over a game, while St. Louis is basically "your favorite mid major's favorite mid major". They out Butler'd Butler and out VCU'd VCU in the A-10 tournament. Not to get all Bill Simmons, but they've got the "no one believed in us" plus the "win one for Majerus" storylines in their back pocket too.

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