Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NCAA Tournament preview - West Regional

This would be the second most-boring regional, except that it has Pitt.

This regional also benefits from the play-in game, which I did call correctly (like it was a tough call to make, since Florida A&M is horrendous).

See, I wouldn't lie to you.

I'm also busting out the required 12/5 upset in this bracket, taking Illinois over Virginia Tech, who I am robustly unimpressed with. I mean it's not as if Illinois is any good, but Virginia Tech is a five seed pretty much solely because it beat UNC twice. Of course, it also lost to ACC Tournament and N.I.T. upstarts NC State three times. The clincher here is the fact that it lost to Marshall. For one thing, Marshall is in West Virignia. No one wishing to take itself seriously should ever lose to teams from that state. For another thing, you should never, ever lose to any team that goes 7-9 in Conference USA.

We also get another 8/9 matchup that could potentially be fun, although I'm pretty convinced Nova will pull this one out. Gonzaga could also upset Indiana maybe, but without Josh Heytvelt I don't have any faith in them whatsoever. If Gonzaga wants any respect, it really should be going undefeated in that joke of a conference. People will point to the solid non-conference schedule, but that was before the team's best player got caught with hallucinogenic substances.

The other intriguing first-round matchup, and not just for personal reasons, is, of course, Duke/VCU. It's pretty clear that Duke is a 6 seed just because they're Duke, and VCU likes taking their game to teams, something that Duke might not be able to cope with. I still took Duke to the second round, if only because I have a hard time envisioning Coach K. (as little as I like him) losing to the first-year coach of an 11 seed.

I've seen people bandying Wright State around as a possible upset, but maybe that's just because I actively go looking for people who are trash talking Pitt just so I can call them out. Most of these people base their opinions on the Big East Championship Game and the fact that Pitt traditionally underachieves in the tourney. In reality, Wright State has one player over 6'6", and that one player is 6'8". Is this team serious? Aaron Gray could throw down 20 and grab 15 boards in his sleep against these midgets.

I'd also actually rather face Duke in the second round than VCU. VCU does the things that has given Pitt trouble this year, such as use little fast guards that like to run at people, and they also employ a full court press often. Pitt matches up much better against Duke. I think they'd be good bets to win, either way, of course.

I have the favorites advancing in all of the other second-round matchups, too, setting up another (boring) 1/4, 3/2 setup in the Sweet 16. I think Kansas takes care of Southern Illinois without too much trouble, and if I didn't have such an enormous rooting interest in Pitt, I'd tend to say UCLA does the same, especially playing the game at San Jose. UCLA doesn't leave California at all until the Final Four. That can't be fair, can it?

However, the only reason I've even watched college basketball since the Donatus Zavackas debacle in the 2003 Sweet 16 is so I could see Pitt finally get over that hump and at least make an appearance in the Elite 8. For that reason, I have to take Pitt. Plus, the last time we had such a cool master/apprentice matchup, the apprentice came out in better shape.

Yes, I did just make my second cheesy Darth Vader reference in the span of a couple weeks, but the Howland/Dixon coaching matchup would obviously be the most over-hyped story of the entire Sweet 16 if it happened. Too bad Jamie Dixon can't choke Aaron Afflalo with his mind from across the court.

Seriously though, I will offer one reason that Pitt may actually have a chance in this game. The Bruins lack a dominant post player. Aaron Gray has three inches on UCLA's tallest player, and four on their most proficient rebounder. He really will be the key to this game.

Anyway, to make up for my concession here, I've decided to not be a complete homer this year, and I'm taking Kansas over Pitt to the Final Four. I realize I haven't really said much about Kansas so far, but I really think something has got to give with this team. After probably two of the most inexplicable early-round losses in a row, they're really due to stop fucking people's brackets over.


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