March Madness is upon us. I can?t wait for the games to begin today, as the tournament always seems to start off with some thrillers. I believe that the tournament is pretty wide open. Aside the first five or six teams, there is a sizable group of teams and any of them could make a run to the Final Four in Minneapolis.
In the East region, Duke is clearly the team to beat. Fresh off its Atlantic Coast Conference Championship run, the Blue Devils look very explosive and can really hurt teams with the three-point shot.
Point guard Jason Williams will be ready to play after spraining his ankle over the weekend and Carlos Boozer should be back by the Sweet 16.
However there are some obstacles in Duke?s way.
Kentucky, Boston College and UCLA are all teams that on a ny given day can beat Duke. With its red-hot streak down the stretch, Kentucky is especially dangerous. I just don?t know if any of these teams have enough strength inside to expose Duke?s lack of bulk and depth there.
One team to keep your eye on in this region is Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys are going to be an emotional bunch following the death of their three teammates, but they have an excellent tournament coach, Eddie Sutton, who can really play with the team?s defense.
Moving to Minneapolis:Duke
In the West I really like the draw that Stanford was given. The Cardinals should cruise until the Elite Eight when they should face a stiff challenge, probably from Maryland.
However, I would look for a number of upsets in the first few rounds out west.
I feel that BYU, which has an excellent inside-outside combo led by Mekeli Wesley, will beat an overrated Cincinnati team. Also, don?t be surprised if Georgia State, which has had a terrific year, beats Wisconsin in the first round.
To me, this is the weakest region overall and look for an excellent Stanford-Maryland regional final. However, I think the Cardinal are too big and too fundamentally solid to lose to Maryland.
Moving to Minneapolis: Stanford
The South region is pretty open, although top-seeded Michigan State will be a tough out in the tournament because of how well it rebounds and plays defense. Plus, with Charlie Bell and Andre Hutson, they have some proven winners.
If North Carolina gets it going, the Tar Heels are tough to stop with super Joe Forte outside and Brendan Haywood on the interior.
The team to watch out for in this bracket is Florida. Billy Donovan always has his team ready to play in March, and in Brett Nelson, it has an outstanding point guard.
In addition, the Gators have dealt with adversity all year long and are mentally tough from fighting through all the injuries.
Going to Minneapolis: Florida
Illinois is the top seed here and the Fighting Illini deserve it. Frank Williams is an excellent point guard and this team is deep and excellent defensively. I just wonder if they have enough firepower to win this region.
Arizona has regrouped and is playing better than ever. This team has so much talent that anyone is going to be hard pressed to beat it. Look for Gilbert Arenas to have a break-out tournament in front of the whole nation.
A team to watch for is Syracuse. If they get past a tough first round game against Hawaii, then the Orangemen could really make some noise behind Preston Shumpert in that 2-3 matchup zone.
Moving to Minneapolis: Arizona
There you have it. Duke, Stanford, Florida and Arizona should be playing for all of the marbles in just over two weeks.