Well the madness of March is upon us as the tournament kicks off today at 12:15. In the immortal words of Bart Scott, “CAN’T WAIT!” I am looking forward to the close games, buzzer beaters, and upsets as they destroy my bracket and rip it to shreds. So who are some teams that could spring an upset to outperform their seed.
Morehead State (24-9): Hailing from the Ohio Valley Conference, Morehead State is an in state rival of their first round opponent, Louisville. The crazy part is that both teams met two years ago when Louisville was a 1 and Morehead was a 16. Morehead played them close for about 30 minutes in that game before falling to the high powered Cardinals. It is also quite possible that Morehead will have the best player on the floor in senior Kenneth Faried. Faried is the all time leader in rebounding and was on the floor the last time they played in the tournament.
Oakland (25-9): Oakland ran roughshod through the Summit League this year and are making their second straight appearance in the Dance. Oakland is a high powered offense that has scored in the 100s multiple times. One reason I like the Golden Grizzlies is that Rick Barnes coaches Texas. No one gets less out of more than Barnes. Also, Texas has been up and down heading into the tournament. Keith Benson leads the veteran Grizzlies with 18 points and 10 boards a night. I think that the experience of the Grizzlies will topple the youth of Texas.
Richmond (27-7): After coming in third in the Atlantic 10 regular season and winning the tournament, the Spiders come in on quite a roll and have a lot of buzz to spring the ever popular 5/12 upset on the Commodores of Vanderbilt. They have a great inside-out combination with Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson and a senior laden team as Coach Chris Mooney hopes to advance further than last year after they lost to St. Mary’s.
Missouri (23-10): I like the Tigers style of playing basketball as it is not typical. Coach Mike Anderson was a player on Nolan Richardson’s national championship Arkansas team that preached “40 Minutes of Hell.” Anderson learned his lessons well as he has implemented those same principles at Missouri. The full court pressing Tigers are never far out of any matchup but they open with a Big East foe in Cincinnati. If they win, they would play the winner of UConn/Bucknell. Quote from avid UConn fan, Josh Conrad, during the Big East Tournament, “I hope we don’t get a pressing team because we will not be able to handle it very well. We’ve struggled this year against it.” To which I replied, “So a team like Missouri.”
Utah State (30-3): That is quite the gaudy record for another 12 seed and they truly scare me because I think Kansas State can really make a run to the Elite Eight. For Kansas State, I love Jacob Pullen and his beard and I especially love Frank Martin. If you look in the dictionary under intensity, you see a picture of Martin’s facial expression and him about to lose it. As for Utah State, they come out of the WAC and are tournament veterans and Coach Stew Morrill seems to regularly pile up wins but can’t seem to get it done in the Big Dance.
Arizona (27-7) & North Carolina (26-7): I list both these teams because I think both of them can make long runs in the tournament, and both are led by amazing underclassmen who could pull a Carmelo Antony and Syracuse type run from 2003. Derrick Williams (Arizona) and Harrison Barnes (North Carolina) are two of my favorite players to watch this year. Both are not afraid to take the big shot at the end of the game and both have had to work hard to get better this year. Williams was freshman of the year last year and has improved his game so much that he has gotten some national player of the year buzz this year leading Arizona to the Pac 10 regular season title. He is so strong and has an awesome jump shot from deep. As for Barnes, he was the first preseason All American. Unfortunately, he did not live up to the immense hype, but he stuck with it and kept going. By January, he was finding his stroke and helping to lead the Tarheels along with Kendall Marshall on a strong run to the finish to win the ACC regular season. Last weekend, Barnes exploded for 40 points against the Clemson Tigers in the ACC semifinals to lead them to the title game in an OT victory. He had huge shots at the end of the game and had 14 points in the extra session.
Enjoy the Madness!