It’s that time of year again. The sports world drops whatever it is doing and all eyes focus on three weeks of upsets, predictions and best of all, Dick Vitale. Welcome to March Madness.
For those of you who don’t know your Buckeyes from your Badgers, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament may not seem all that exciting. But don’t worry, the Campus Times is here to help. We’ve taken three CT staff members and asked them to voice their opinions on some of the hottest issues surrounding college basketball and the upcoming tournament.
Let the madness begin.
What has surprised you the most this season?
Dave Maystrovsky: Tennessee has risen dramatically from the ashes this year. After hiring Bruce Pearl and his flamboyant orange jacket from Wisconsin-Milwaukee this team has really taken off, getting ranked and in contention for a top-four seed. With the emergence of players like Chris Lofton and C.J. Watson, this team is perhaps one of the most improved teams from a year ago and could make noise in the NCAA tournament.
Bo Wang: What has surprised me the most is how good North Carolina has been. They lost their top seven scorers to the NBA and the only player who even scored in the National Championship game who is still on the roster is David Noel. No one, certainly not I, believed that they would be in second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference and in the top 15 of both the Associated Press and Coaches poll. Roy Williams has molded this team into a contender that can knock off anyone – whoever is in their bracket better watch out.
Alex Moeller: Tennessee and North Carolina have certainly been big surprises, however I would add to this list the decline of Louisville basketball. This is a very prestigious program coached by a basketball icon, Rick Pitino, and for them to finish in the bottom half of the Big East after being ranked fifth in the preseason polls is shocking.
Which so-called ‘power conference’ is the strongest?
DM: Definitely the Big East. Here’s a conference that could get as many as nine tournament bids and will get at least seven. Top to bottom, it’s one of the most loaded conferences in recent memory. Even their bubble teams – Louisville, Syracuse and Seton Hall – have resumes that would qualify them if they were in a different conference. So far, Connecticut, Villanova, Georgetown, West Virginia, Marquette and Pittsburgh have definitely solidified their bids, with Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Louisville and Syracuse poised to join them with a good showing in the conference tournament.
BW: No doubt about this one for me – it’s the Big East. It will be an atrocity if they don’t get at least ten teams into the tournament. Every school in the Big East has solid programs with their share of talent. Ten teams have 18 or more wins and last place South Florida upset No. 20 Georgetown in their last game. The Big East has depth on all levels and can win on any given night against anyone.
AM: Sorry boys, but here’s the scoop. The Big East is deep only because it’s the largest conference in the nation. When you look at the numbers, the Big Ten is clearly the strongest conference in the land. This is a conference that will, barring a catastrophe, send seven of its 11 teams, or 64 percent, to the big dance. No other conference, not even the Big East, will approach that number. Also, the Big Ten leads the Big East 6-4 in head-to-head match-ups.
Who should be the National Player of the Year?
AM: It’s clearly a two-man race between Adam Morrison of Gonzaga and Duke’s J.J. Redick, and I’m giving my vote to Morrison for two reasons. First, he can score off the dribble much better than Redick, and looks so much more confident driving to thebasket. Second, Redick’s game has slipped just slightly over the past two weeks, while Morrison has stayed steady in leading his team to important wins. That having been said, J.J. is a spectacular player and if he wins the award, it certainly would not be undeserved.
BW: I love Morrison, but the nod for me is unquestionably Redick. It’s not just about the records or the wins. No other player in college basketball faces as much scrutiny as he does. Teams now gear defenses to stop him, he is hounded by opposing fans and has perfection demanded of him at every turn. Not only does he hit every big shot, but he also wants to take every big shot. And at the end of the game, there isn’t any other player in college basketball you want with the ball in their hands.
DM: This two-man race idea is nonsense – my pick is senior Randy Foye of Villanova. His stellar play in the unconventional four guard rotation has the team on the cusp of a number one seed in the NCAAs. While Morrison and Redick fight it out, Foye is quietly having a magnificent season to help his team overcome the loss of their only big man.
Who should win the national Coach of the Year award?
BW: I want to say Roy Williams, but sometimes level of talent has to become a factor. I love Ben Howland at UCLA – he is the only thing that has kept the Bruins from falling apart. But I have to give it to Bruce Weber at Illinois. After losing Luther Head to the draft, he has been able to mold Dee Brown into a solid point guard and to stay atop the Big Ten, especially considering how deep the conference is this year. Going into the season, this team was a mess, but Weber has molded them into contenders.
AM: I’ll give the nod to Bruce Pearl at Tennessee. Yes, Dave, his jackets tend to be downright ugly, but it is obvious that this man can flat out coach. Taking control of a perennial Southeastern Conference doormat and turning them into regular season SEC East champions is amazing, and he deserves the award over guys like Howland and Weber, who have been at their schools for a few years.
Which four teams will get number one seeds in the tournament?
DM: Villanova, Memphis, UConn and Duke seemed destined for the number one seeds. All four teams have withstood the pressures of being highly ranked and have survived the regular seasons without injuries to major stars. Look for these schools to be favored to make a run at the Final Four.
BW: In my personal opinion, I believe Duke and UConn are locks to get bids, but the next two get tricky. The loss to UAB didn’t help Memphis, but I do believe that in the end, they will get one. The last spot is the nail biter. For me, I believe that Villanova absolutely deserves it, but they haven’t been dominant enough to warrant two Big East teams as number one seeds. That leaves Gonzaga, George Washington and Ohio State. Although none of them are high on the Ratings Percentage Index, my gut tells me Gonzaga will get the last number one.
AM: I agree with Bo and Dave in that Duke and UConn will get top seeds without a doubt. The other two will depend on the conference tournaments, many of which will be played this weekend. Barring an early upset, Memphis deserves a number one seed, and I think that if Ohio State can reach the Big Ten finals, which they should, they will steal a top spot from Villanova.
Which big-name teams are primed to lose early in the tournament?
DM: This year, many major teams are on the bubble, but making the tourney would not necessarily mean that they will advance far. Louisville, Syracuse and Kentucky are all poised to get bounced out if they advance to the tournament. Kansas, while maturing admirably throughout the year, is poised for a letdown simply because it is a team made up of freshmen and sophomores and does not have the experience to deal with pressure. The Michigan State Spartans are another team that has hit a bump as the season progressed – don’t be surprised to see them fall to a mid-major cinderella in the first two rounds.
AM: It seems like every year, the Gonzaga Bulldogs get hyped up by the media, rack up a tons of wins against weak conference opponents, and then fall flat in the tournament. Look for that to continue this year, as the Bulldogs will not make it past the Sweet 16. As
ide from Morrison, they are too inconsistent to string together five or six wins against quality opponents. Gonzaga stumbled to a one point victory against Loyola- Marymount – a team that has won only 12 games this season – for the conference title on Monday, and that was thanks to a botched layup by a Lions player as time expired. They are a fan favorite every year, but don’t expect more than two tournament wins from these guys.
BW: It breaks my heart, but Villanova could be out of the fight earlier than they would like. I love the enthusiasm and work ethic, but the lack of size and rebounding could be deadly downfalls. They live and die by the three and rely on the fast break a little bit too much. The NCAA tournament is dominated by guards because when the game slows down, you need a guy who can handle, set up and run plays. I love Allen Ray, but unfortunately he’s nowhere to be found when the game gets tight.
Which lesser-known teams will become ‘Cinderellas’ in this tournament?
AM: The Southern Illinois Salukies, and not just because of their name. They just won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, which means they are peaking at the right time in the season. Don’t discredit them for playing in the Missouri Valley Conference, either. The league is significantly stronger this season than in years past, and could send four or even five teams to the big dance.
DM: Depending on how the conference tourneys play out, several teams could emerge as the surprise in the big dance this year. Look for a team from the Colonial Athletic Association to make some noise. For example, George Mason is poised to surprise some teams this year. The Patriot League, home of powerful but unrecognized Bucknell, has always fielded competitive teams. Western Kentucky, a team out of the Sun Belt Conference, has experts buzzing about a possible tournament run.
Which mid-major teams will cause problems for the power conference teams in the tournament?
BW: I’m going out on a limb, but keep an eye on Bucknell. There’s a reason they have made the tournament the last four years in a row – they are solid. Chris McNaughton, Charles Lee and Kevin Bettencourt are all big time players who have tournament experience. The three of them all average double digits, and the modified Princeton offense they run can cause a lot of problems for teams they face. If they are a top ten seed, I would suggest for anyone who’s facing them to watch out!
DM: I also think Bucknell, fresh off their upset of Kansas last year, could land a few more big upsets this year. Northern Iowa is always considered a mid-major power, and with Ben Jacobson leading the way, the Panthers could dance all the way to the Sweet 16.
Last, but certainly not least, who is your pick to win the national championship?
DM: Connecticut looks like the team to beat. While notorious for playing poorly for periods of time, this team can beat anyone in the country when they work together. Their frontcourt will determine how far they go.
BW: Every coach in the country would trade for Jim Calhoun’s lineup in a heartbeat. Most teams go two or three deep, but UConn goes eight deep, and they will be your champs.
AM: While Connecticut is clearly the strongest team, I think they will falter in the Final Four, so I’m going with the Ohio State Buckeyes to stun everyone and bring the national title home to Columbus.
Maystrovsky can be reached at email@example.com.
Moeller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wang can be reached at email@example.com.