What follows is comprehensive discussion on the NCAA Tournament between two of Barking Carnival's finest. Click here for the full series.
JC25: First, let's revisit my preseason Final Four picks. I was terribly wrong on personal favorite Kentucky, but both Louisville and Ohio St. are strong contenders in their respective brackets. Spoiler alert: I'm abdicating my preseason champions pick, Michigan St.
I hate to do it, but I'll take Louisville in the Midwest. The Cardinals are the favorites of both the talking heads and statgeeks, and that's just enough for me to pick them over the Spartans, my perennial Final Four pick. In the West, I guess I'm not a Gonzaga believer, because I have them falling to Pittsburgh in the Round of 32. That leads to a fourth game between Ohio St. and Wisconsin, with the Buckeyes taking the season series. Ohio St. is good, but Louisville is better. Give me the Cardinals.
In the East, I've got Indiana over Miami in my only chalk region. Davidson over Marquette is the most chic upset pick, which naturally means it won't happen. I've been bearish Kansas the past few Tournaments. That hurt me last year, but I'm sticking with it, going with Kansas losing to VCU in the Sweet 16. Florida gets the stat love, but I'm going against the grain here. Georgetown to the Final Four.
You said this year is a good year for a left field pick, so here goes. I'll take the Hoyas to beat consecutive 1-seeds, toppling preseason favorites Indiana and Louisville. Both statistics and analysts hate Georgetown. Their offensive stat profile is mediocre, the Princeton offense isn't sexy, and the Hoyas play just plain ugly basketball. But they've got my favorite player in Otto Porter (with apologies to Marcus Smart), and a smothering defense that may be the best in the nation. In a year where there's no clear favorite, may the ugliest team win.
Tjarks: That's funny you mention "the ugliest team" because that's been one of the over-arching storylines of this season. So many teams are trying to win by playing grind-it-out half court defense and uglying up the game, it's as if Rick Barnes became everyone's patron saint. I actually watched two of those Ohio State-Wisconsin games because I'm a degenerate gambler; the world does not need a 4th rock-fight between those two, I can assure you. I wouldn't be surprised if Georgetown beat Ohio State 40-35 in a national title game, but I'm not going to pick them for the same reason that I'm not going to pick Duke, because that would just be too depressing.
As far as picks go, I'm going all-in on the whole parity angle. So I'm taking St. Louis to come out of the Midwest. I don't think Smith and Siva will be able to speed up the Billikens, and I think the Cardinals' weakness is if those two get caught in a possession-oriented half-court game down the stretch. Duke and Michigan State would be a fascinating match-up on the other side of that bracket, but the Spartans will be undone by Keith Appling at the point, while I'm not going to pick the Blue Devils because life is short, although I must admit that Ryan Kelly, a.k.a. "The White Raven," is growing on me. Out West, I'll keep with that parity angle and take New Mexico.
On the other side of the bracket, both Kansas and Indiana are vulnerable 1 seeds, but it looks like they have fairly favorable draws to the Elite 8. The Jayhawks' lack of a PG will bite them against whomever comes out of the other side of the South. I'll take Florida, just because they are such a well-rounded veteran team, but Georgetown or even OU or San Diego State wouldn't totally surprise me. Outside of Indiana, the East is extremely wide open. It's well set-up for Brad Stevens to make another deep run, but I'll take the Hoosiers in an Elite 8 rematch because of their edge in low post scoring with Cody Zeller.
In the Final 4, I'm going to change my tune and take Indiana to cut down the nets by beating New Mexico just because I'm such a fan of what Tom Crean is doing. (Although his sideline demeanor is very similar to that of an axe murderer.) Indiana plays such an aesthetically-pleasing and fun style of basketball that I'm going to hope that the basketball gods reward them in March. Really, it's all guesswork, which is what makes it so fun. A year with a lot of parity generally means the Tourney peaks on the first weekend, and I have the feeling everyone will be ripping up their brackets next Monday anyway.