As Marchifornication continues, your Midwest Regional preview. But first, you are running out of time to join the BHGP Super Terrific Happy Fun Marchifornication Bracket Challenge (Group #5862, password is gornstar)
To the previews...
(1) Kansas -- The good news? They have just about everything: They're big, athletic, fast as hell, tough on defense, and surprisingly experienced.
The bad news? Let's take a look at the last three years.
- 2007 - #2 UCLA 68, #1 Kansas 55, and a thorough bitch slapping at that.
- 2006 - #13 Bradley 77, #4 Rock Chalk 73, and described on ESPN.com as "unprepared and overwhelmed from the start."
- 2005 - #14 Bucknell 64, #3 Rock Chalk 63...I think that one speaks for itself.
And then there was 2003 Illinois. And 2001 Illinois. And so on. And so on. I'm not blaming it on Bill Self, but his teams have a little trouble with the tournament. OK, maybe I am blaming it on Bill Self.
(16) Portland State -- At least they keep Jerry Glanville gainfully employed!
(8) UNLV --
Solid veteran guard play? Check (this weekend, take a moment to watch Wink Adams).
No problem putting points on the board? Check.
Held 12 of its last 14 opponents under 65 points? Check (and, yes, I know it's the Mountain West).
Won 7 of its last 8, including a shitkicking of the conference regular season champ in the tournament final? Check.
I would normally say this is the team destined to beat KU, but they don't have the discipline to slow the game down and beat the crap out of Sasha Kaun.
(9) Kent State -- Iowa lost its two best scorers and imploded. Kent State lost its two best scorers and, rather than going the way of the Hawkeyes, distributed the points better than any other team in its conference. Four players scoring between 10 and 14 (for a team that averages less than 70 a game), and a cast of thousands of role players who all do way too much with the little they have. They're a difficult draw for UNLV. While you're watching Wink Adams, take a look at Al Fisher.
(5) Clemson -- This team scares the crap out of me. Clemson played and lost three games with North Carolina, but two of those three went to overtime and the third was tight to the end. All but one of their nine losses is arguably excusable (I can't defend a 10-point home loss to Charlotte, though). They have scored 70 or more in all but three games, so there's clearly no problems on offense. Obviously, defense is the prime issue, but their ability to run gives them a chance against anyone (and, by anyone, I mean Kansas).
(12) Villanova -- They have no right to be here, having been repeatedly massacred by the best (and, quite often, the rest) of the Big East: Lost by 8 at 11-19 DePaul; lost by 12 at 11-20 Rutgers; lost by 10 at home to ND; lost by 14 at home to Syracuse; lost by 22 at St. Joe's. The list goes on.
In 2005, the Big East had a surprising run through the tournament. Since then, the committee continues to reward Big East mediocrity at the expense of mid-major programs avoided by the BCS conferences like the bubonic plague. Last year, they gave us Notre Dame (upset by Winthrop), Marquette (lost to MSU), and Villanova (lost to Kentucky). In 2006, it was the thoroughly overrated Syracuse Orange (who won the conference tournament, then flamed out to A&M), Pitt (lost to Bradley in the second round), Marquette (lost to Alabama), and Seton Hall (lost to Wichita State).* This is the year it ends. This is the year when we all collectively rise up, recognize the mediocrity in the middle- and lower-ranks of the Big East, and put Clemson in the final eight.
(4) Vanderbilt -- Can't win tough road games. Won the biggest game in the history of the program, then lost 3 of its final 5. Stallings turned down the Iowa job. In other words, fuck them.
(13) Sienna -- Half of my least favorite crayon. That's all I know.
(6) USC -- I'll admit it: I love this year's Pac-10 basketball teams in general, and USC in particular. Things we know: They're incredibly young. They were more banged up than the Iowa receiver corps early. They got off to a horrible start with a loss at Mercer, but they haven't had a terrible loss since (KU by 4; Memphis in overtime; @ Cal (OK, that one is iffy); @ Stanford; 2 to Wazzu; 2 to UCLA; and Arizona). Oh yeah, they're finally healthy and Davon Jefferson looks like he's finding his game again. Join me, folks. Love the USC.
Pete Carroll gives you six more reasons to like USC
(11) Kansas State -- I can't remember a non-Iowa, non-Creighton first round game I've looked forward to more than USC-Kansas State. Michael Beasley is an absolute monster, and Bill Walker might be the best running mate in the tournament. Unfortunately for those of you looking for that elusive #6/#11 upset, Kansas State won the biggest game of its season, then tanked ( Commodores, Vanderbilt). KSU dropped 6 of its last 9 games, including losses to Nebraska and Texas Tech. That's not the trend line you're looking for, betters. Nonetheless, this game is going to kick major ass.
(3) Wisconsin -- They slow you down. They pack the defense in. They refuse to stray. It's not rocket science. And, by the way, they're USC's worst nightmare. If they got Tennessee as the #2, it could be a trip to the final 8. Georgetown is a tough draw, if only because the Hoyas play a similar game with more talent.
(14) Cal State-Fullerton -- At least their fans already know how to get to Omaha.
(7) Gonzaga -- I want to rip Gonzaga, if only because they have cost me more money than I care to imagine. However, I have no basis for tearing Mark Few a new asshole. Gonzaga has played its toughest non-conference schedule in years and the strongest WCC in recent memory. They went cross-country to beat St. Joe's and UConn. Of their seven losses, six came against teams that made the tournament (and the seventh might have made it had their coach not left mid-season on a mission to terrify Rece Davis). Everyone is turning on Gonzaga this year; I think John Stockton is taking Davidson in his pool. I'll ride with this team one more time.
At least until they get Georgetown, that is.
(10) Davidson -- Yeah, they went undefeated through the Southern Conference. Yeah, they played North Carolina, UCLA, and Duke to the wire They also didn't beat anyone. In the words of Chris Berman, "Fuck them. They didn't do anything yet."
(2) Georgetown -- The Villanova Big East Corollary does not apply to top-ranked Big East teams, who generally do pretty well. John Thompson III's use of the Princeton offense at a legitimate program is an obvious method for success only in the Bizarro world, but it seems to work here. Go figure. They're the team to beat in this bracket.
(15) Maryland-Baltimore County -- Last time I was in Baltimore, I was walking toward the Inner Harbor after an Orioles game. I saw a panhandler with the standard "Will Work 4 Fuud" sign. One block later, I saw another panhandler with a "I want a beer" sign. Those two hobos are now the backcourt at UMBC.
For the record, I'm taking KU, Clemson, USC, and Georgetown in the Sweet 16, with Georgetown beating Clemson to get to the Final 4.
Two more previews to come Wednesday.
* -- To be fair, Georgetown and West Virginia made it to the Sweet 16 as a 7 and 6 seed, respectively.