Monday, March 17, 2014
March Madness 2014 The Holiday Road
"This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun." - Clark Griswold, Vacation.
This is a perfect quote to describe this time of year. March Madness is not only a quest for fun but a quest for a championship.
The journey starts Tuesday night and the trip is a long and winding roller coaster of emotion a la "The Screemy Meemy". Clark Griswold would agree that loading up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster on a trip cross country to Wally World isn't as exciting as three weeks of March Madness.
It is unlike any other spectacle not even the worlds largest ball of mud can top it which you know is only a few short hours away.
So the selections are made and we now set our GPS coordinates for Bracket World. That wonderful amusement park where 68 teams all want to be. Where you have to "watch those freeways" as you make your way from round to round. Where each team hopes to take that last exit into the Final Four and possibly cut down the nets.
Are you ready for the thrill of your life?
Well, buckle up, get comfortable, and strap Aunt Edna down tight because this is going to be one hell of a ride!
I will again traverse through each region and list my power conference player to watch, mid major player to watch, a sleeper or slipper pick, potential upset special, my sweet sixteen, my elite eight, and my final four pick.
I will continue with this format and also add a little bit more for some interesting facts about each region. Those fun tidbits like best player name but I will pick new names and retire those like UCLA's Sooren Derboghosian and Creighton's Mogboluwaga Oginni.
And away we go!
Power Conference Player to Watch: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Jayhawks.
I usually have you track a player from the team I feel will make it through the region but this guys talent is off the charts good. I also feel the reason you want to watch this kid play is two fold. One he is an amazing talent and two he is going to be gone from college basketball after this tournament is over. The days of superior talent staying on campus for their four years are long gone. He is a one and done guaranteed. He has silky smooth moves and an ability to fill up the stat sheet to the maximum. Bill Self will rely heavily on his talent if they are to be able to last into the latter part of the tournament. A key for this team since star center Joel Embiid is unhealthy in the middle of that paint.
Mid Major Player to Watch: David Brown, Western Michigan Broncos
What can Brown do for you? He can pour in the points with the best of them. The pride of Roscoe, IL is the leading scorer on this dangerous team out of the MAC. He averages 19.4pts and is coming of a 32 point outburst in their conference championship game. He never met a shot he didn't like.
The "Dirk Diggler Those are Great Names" Best Player Name in Bracket: Wanaah Bail, UCLA Bruins.
The 6'9'' FR forward doesn't see much action on the court but roots his team on from the bench. I am sure he and his teammates will attest they don't "wanna bail" out of this tournament too soon. The way they are playing lately they just might stick around.
Hey, Aren't you...? Danny Manning, Head Coach, Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Yes, he is THAT Danny Manning. The former NBA superstar and Kansas Jayhawk is now at the helm of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. He was an assistant coach under Bill Self at Kansas and is now directing his own group of student athletes. He is hoping to hearken back to 1988 and his Danny and the Miracles run that he orchestrated to the national title. Time will tell but the way this season has gone you can't rule any team out.
Slipper Pick: Stephen F. Ausin Lumberjacks
The champions from the Southland conference have won 28 games in a row and are riding an air of confidence that goes a long way in March. They have balanced scoring led by guard Desmond Heymon and forward Jacob Parker. The team is full of veteran leadership and they won't be rattled by the stage they will be on.
Potential Upset Special: #14 Western Michigan over #3 Syracuse
The latter portion of Syracuse's schedule they have been mediocre at best. They flirted with losses while starting the season 25-0 and finally their luck ran out. They are talented but in their last they are 2-5 and squeaked by three other games by a total of 5 points. I would steer clear of the that Syracuse Orange Kool-Aid.
Sweet Sixteen: #1 Florida v. #4 UCLA , #6 Ohio State v. #2 Kansas
Elite Eight: #1 Florida v. #6 Ohio State
Final Four: #1 Florida
Power Conference Player to Watch: Gary Harris, Jr., Michigan State Spartans
This do-everything guard has the highest ceiling of any player on the Spartans depth chart. The NBA scouts are salivating on this kids decision at the end of the tournament as well. They are finally healthy and have all their pieces back to where everyone thought they would be at the beginning of the season. Harris will create havoc on defense and will attack the basket on offense. Teams can try and stifle his game but good luck with that.
Mid Major Player to Watch: Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, and Jarvis Threatt, Delaware Fightin Blue Hens
I usually only pick one player to point out from a small school who is taking on the big boys but this team has a three headed monster that fuels their fire. These three amigos average 19.7, 19.4, and 18.1 respectfully. They like to push the ball and score in bunches. Michigan State will have a battle on their hands but Tom Izzo is one to the best coaches during March Madness tournament time.
The "Dirk Diggler Those are Great Names" Best Player Name in Bracket: Hippolyte Tsafack, Memphis Tigers
He isn't an active player, as he is redshirting, but he and the Tigers are Hungry, Hungry, Hungry for a long march run through this tournament.
Hey, Aren't you...? Fred Hoiberg, Head Coach, Iowa State Cyclones.
The "mayor" of Ames, IA he has rebuilt this team into one of the best teams in the country. He, as a former Cyclone, has made it his mission to bring credibility and talent back to their campus. He has former NBA experience as a player with the Chicago Bulls, amongst others, and has brought an air of professionalism to this team. He has his team playing amazing basketball fresh off a Big 12 tournament championship.
Sleeper Pick: #7 Connecticut Huskies
It is hard to grasp the concept that UCONN could be a sleeper but just look at their seeding and they are listed as a 7 seed. They have one of the best players in the country in Shabazz Napier and he can single handily carry a team to a couple wins in this tournament. The school has plenty of successful history in this tournament with a recent national championship by another talented Huskie, Kemba Walker. I wouldn't be surprised to see UCONN playing on the second weekend.
Potential Upset Special: #12 Harvard over # 5 Cincinnati
The brains versus the brawn. I thought thats what Survivor was touting this season? The Crimson are a senior laden team with a win in last seasons tournament to use as reference material. They study hard and play even harder. Their coach, Tommy Amaker, has made the Ivy League a true basketball threat. This league has pulled its share of shockers in the past so if Harvard can calculate the proper algorithms then they could be moving on.
Sweet Sixteen: #1 Virginia v. #4 Michigan State, #3 Iowa State v. #7 Connecticut
Elite Eight: #4 Michigan State v. #3 Iowa State
Final Four: #4 Michigan State
Power Conference Player to Watch: Doug McDermott, Creighton Blue Jays
What a difference a year makes. For the past three seasons he has been the best Mid Major player out there. Now with the teams jump to the Big East he didn't disappoint. He only ran away with, for my money, the national player of the year award. Known as "Dougie McBuckets" he has once again led his Dad's club in scoring at 26.9pts per game and also grabs 7.0 rebounds per contest. He has added to his game and is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. He shoots over 50% from the field and 45% from three. He reminds me of Wally Szcerbiack who led Miami, OH to a Sweet Sixteen or Seth Curry who led Davidson to the Elite Eight. One man shows that can score once they enter the gym. If Dougie can stay fresh he and the rest of his Blue Jays could be heading to Anaheim, CA and the Elite Eight.
Mid Major Player to Watch: Xavier Thames, San Diego State Aztecs
The heart and soul to Steve Fisher's 29-4 club, Xavier, has his hands on the ball both offensively and defensively. He averages nearly 2 steals a game which in a close game can mean winning and losing if you can create possessions for your team. He isn't all that shabby scoring the basketball either. He averages 16.8pts and if the game is close he will be at the free throw line to ice it with an 83% free throw touch. This team is dangerous with a true road win against Kansas earlier in the season and virtually no one wins at "The Phog".
The "Dirk Diggler Those Are Great Names" Best Player Name in Bracket: Yilret Yiljep, American Eagles
Y did I pick this guy? Y not? The little used Nigerian has logged 10.5 minutes this season and hasn't played since January. He might be hurt or just not seeing action. Either way he will be better off as this game should be a real Yawner.
Hey, Aren't you...? David Stockton, Gonzaga Bulldogs
The son of NBA Hall of Famer, John Stockton, he is doing his dad's legacy proud by leading his team in assists at 4.2. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree when it comes to dishing out assists. He sees the floor well and directs their offense like the veteran player he is. This senior guard will hope to continue the run of tournaments Gonzaga has been to and try and once again wear that Cinderella slipper. They ran into a "shockingly" good Wichita State team last year to end their Final Four hopes in the third round. If they can get past Marcus Smart and OK. State who knows maybe they ruin Arizona's chances this year. They have seemed to be better suited as underdogs than favorites.
Sleeper Pick: #9 Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are a team that has experienced their share of ups and downs this past season. They were a preseason favorite for many to push Kansas in the Big 12. They have one of the best players in the country in guard Marcus Smart. The uber talented Smart was a household name when he was suspended for three games after pushing a fan in the stands. They went through some real soul searching and in the process lost game after game. When he came back it was business as usual. He led the team back to consideration for the NCAA tournament and are hot at the right time. Believe me Arizona fans were not happy to see the Cowboys on their side of the bracket.
Potential Upset Special: #11 Nebraska over #6 Baylor
Coach Miles is a program builder and does so in quick fashion. He lead Colorado State to the tournament before he took the job at Nebraska. Formerly a football school he is trying hard to make Lincoln a basketball school. They have a super player in Terran Pettaway and his 18.1pts per game helped Nebraska reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Baylor has plenty of talent as well but they tend to be up and down. They started strong and faltered then have come back with a strong finish. I just feel like they are due for a dud and what better team to oblige them than a Big Ten bunch.
Sweet Sixteen: #1 Arizona v. #4 San Diego State, #3 Crieghton v. #2 Wisconsin
Elite Eight: #1 Arizona v. #3 Creighton
Final Four: #1 Arizona
Power Conference Player to Watch: Jabari Parker, Duke Blue Devils
The national freshman of the year has produced from the get go. He is the pride of Simeon High School out of Chicago and has made that school proud. He is one of the best college players to come around in some time. He too will be a one and done player and make someone, maybe the tanking 76ers, a very happy franchise. He has the size, strength, and agility to make all defenses crazy. He can step out and stroke the three ball or bang inside with his wide frame. Duke will lean heavily on this Windy City product as they roam out on the perimeter for open trifectas.
Mid Major Player to Watch: Langston Hall, Mercer Bears
This 6'4'' senior guard leads his team onto the court and not only is their primary scorer but most importantly he gets others involved with the best of them. He averages 5.6 assists per game and his court vision allows him to find his teammates and whip the ball through the slimmest of openings. He will need to bring his A game as the Duke Blue Devils are their opening round opponent. Duke has past trouble with talented lead guards and the Bears will hope that trend continues.
The "Dirk Diggler Those are Great Names: Best Player Name in Bracket: Indiana Faithfull, Wofford Terriers
This is my favorite name in the field. It sounds like when you watch Cops and the perp gives a fake name. The cop looks puzzled and he knows it can't be right but you sort of hope that it is. Well in this case he is the real deal. He comes from Australia and his parents must have wanted him to have a more American name and what better name than a state in middle America.
Hey, Aren't you...? Mike Davis, Head Coach, Texas Southern
Speaking of Indiana. Yes, this is the same Mike Davis who coached Indiana University to the national championship game after Bobby Knight's departure. He has now taken 3 teams to the NCAA tournament the other being UAB. He has had a long and winding career and has shown an ability to get the most out of his players. The stage was too big at Indiana and the sustainability of success at UAB was a long shot but being at Texas Southern has turned out to be a nice fit. They will play in a first round match up against Cal Poly. Win that and they will take on Wichita State. Ouch!
Sleeper Pick: #12 North Carolina State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack have been mentioned by media types as a surprise addition to this tournament. They were obviously one of the last teams in with the first round match up again Xavier as the two #12 seeds. They have been given reason after reason for them to not be in the tournament. That is exactly what teams like this need to show why they belong. We have seen the past few years teams on the first day VCU and LaSalle win and win after this start. They have the ACC player of the year on their team in T.J. Warren and he is one of the best scorers in the country. This says a great deal about his talent with a conference full of stars and good teams. If you have a player of his caliber you always have a shot to move on in tournament play.
Potential Upset Special: #11 Iowa over #11 Tennessee then over #6 UMASS
The Hawkeyes have been one of the most disappointing teams in the last few weeks of the season. They have done nothing against Big Ten competition but give up on defense and lose games. I think this team needs a shot in the arm and that remedy just might be teams from another conference. They were very successful early in the year and after losing 6 of 7 no one is expecting them to advance. Fran McCaffery is a great motivator and maybe he will fire up this stagnant bunch and have them ready.
Sweet Sixteen: #1 Wichita State v. #4 Louisville , #3 Duke v. #2 Michigan
Elite Eight: #1 Wichita State v. #3 Duke
Final Four: #1 Wichita State
#1 Florida v. #4 Michigan State
#1 Arizona v. #1 Wichita State
National Championship Game: #4 Michigan State v. #1 Wichita State
National Champion: #4 Michigan State
The irony of this championship match up is that the last time an undefeated team out of the Missouri Valley Conference had to battle with the Michigan State Spartans. That was 1979 and Magic and Larry were the focus of that epic night. This wouldn't pit talents like those all time greats but it would put together one of the best examples of a team as has been seen since I think 2005 Illinois. Wichita State has gone wire to wire and would be sitting 39-0 and facing history and perfection.
In their way Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans and their finally health group of superior talent. Wichita State was on the cusp of the final night last year when they lost a double digit lead against eventual champ Louisville and will want to finish the job this time. As much as I like Wichita State and the team concept they play with it has to come to an end sometime and I just feel it will unfortunately end on championship Monday.
As all others that have tried to finish a season undefeated it will be a close one but after the dust settles ultimately Michigan State will cut down the nets and give Tom Izzo his second national title.
Then it will be time to clean and repair America's favorite family fun park!
Posted by WGCY Newsroom at 9:39 PM