What follows is comprehensive discussion on the NCAA Tournament between two of Barking Carnival's finest. Click here for the full series.
JC25: Picking a Final Four out of left field would be nearly as fun as watching Carlos Lee bloopers on repeat, but there's a reason why chalk brackets and brackets filled out by your girlfriend based on team colors usually win the office pools. But as long as we're talking each other out of the favorites, here goes. I love Jeff Withey as a college defender and Ben McLemore as an all-world stud, but Kansas simply does not have the quality and quantity of depth beyond its stars. And if that's not convincing enough, Grantland's Mark Titus further explains in video form. That makes Florida the trendy pick in the South Bracket, although I have my doubts that a perimeter-dependent team could get by the strong defense of Kansas or even Georgetown.
Gonzaga's strength of schedule makes it hard to believe in them. They beat the Big 12 Invitational, with a non-con slate including wins over West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas St., Baylor, and Oklahoma St. So at least we know they're better than Texas. Score! Does that mean I'm buying Ohio St. in the West? Depending on how you feel about DeShaun Thomas, this is Thad Matta's most star-less team since 2008. That doesn't make me feel good about their survive and advance chances. And is it that easy to forget that the Buckeyes got blown out by 22 points at Wisconsin a month ago?
Buying on Miami feels a bit like buying on Notre Dame in the BCS Championship. The Hurricanes are an awesome story--rising from unranked to ACC Champions--but a smoke and mirrors type season isn't the best indicator of post-season success. And Duke needed the game of Ryan Kelly's life to simply squeak by that same Miami team two weeks ago.
Let's switch gears a bit and talk double-digit seeds that could pull some early upsets. If you believe in Gonzaga, by default you have to believe in St. Mary's, right? The Gaels were shafted with a play-in game, but should they win their opener, a Sweet 16 run past Memphis and Michigan St. sounds plausible. With Jordan Adams out, #6 UCLA looks susceptible to losing against a rugged #11 Minnesota team. And finally, #13 play-in's Boise St. and La Salle have pretty good statistical profiles and draw a "low" #4 in Kansas St.
Conversely, I'm not buying #14 Davidson picking off #3 Marquette, which seems like a trendy pick based entirely on people not believing in Marquette. That's Buzz Williams' entire M.O.! The Golden Eagles might eventually fall to a more talented team, but I don't see them bowing out on the first weekend. And there's bound to be a #5-#12 upset. Oregon and Mississippi are the chic power conference tournament winners. But I like Oklahoma St. way too much to write in an Oregon win, and my "never root for Marshall Henderson" principle disallows me from picking Ole Miss. What say you? Any sleeper picks before we get to the good stuff--Final Four and NCAA Champion picks?
Tjarks: Picking upsets is tough. I watch a ton of college hoops as part of my job and I'm not going to act like I can really break down most of the rosters on the 16-12 seeds. That being said, I'm always a fan of low-major teams with a Tournament experience b/c A) they've got to have a good coach and B) they won't be intimidated by the moment.
That's where I can see the Davidson talk coming from -- they made it last year and three straight years (the Steph Curry era) from 2006-2008. Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks aren't NBA players, but they're a level just below. Both could comfortably start for the vast majority of teams in the country. There are a couple of teams that fit that mold: Belmont, whose taking on an Arizona team without a real PG. South Dakota State, who has Nate Wolters going up against Trey Burke in maybe THE individual match-up of the first round. Montana, whose playing a wildly inconsistent Syracuse team. Akron would have been a great pick if their starting PG hadn't decided he was Ramonce Taylor (hey-o!).
As for some of our fellow conference members, I'm really leaning towards Marcus Smart as the No. 1 overall player in the draft, but I am not a fan of Travis Ford. Scott Drew went toe-to-toe with him in the Big 12 Tourney, then in the next round Bruce Weber cleans his clock with a K-State team that doesn't have nearly as much talent. There just doesn't seem to be much offensive structure or rhythm at Ok State, which is a big red flag in a 40-minute game, especially against a team that doesn't turn the ball over. I'm actually on board the K-State bandwagon: veteran team + good defense/rebounding + low turnovers + Rodney McGruder isn't a bad combo for the Tourney.
Quick thoughts on a few of the other frontrunners: I was at the Kansas/TCU game, so I share a lot of the doubts about the Jayhawks, but Perry Ellis (who came on in the Big 12 Tourney after Kevin Young got hurt) changes the dynamic of the team. My friends who are KU fans really dislike Young and Ellis gives them a lot more offense at the 4 position, which was killing them by the end of the year. I don't know how much you can count on a true freshman in this scenario, but he does have the hairline of a 30-year old man. Gonzaga has a great front-court but I'm not huge on their perimeter players; watch out for the winner of the Wichita State-Pittsburgh game. As far as Miami goes, one thing I like about them is they are practically BYU in terms of having a bunch of grown-ass men on their roster. Kenny Kadji is 24 years old!
Really though, as we've already talked about, there's no Kentucky this year. You can pick nits in just about any of these teams. Who do you got in the Final 4 and how do you try to pick them (barring throwing darts on a wall)?