Being the sports addict that I am, I 'm sure you'll be surprised to learn that I've been completely worthless the past four days while the NCAA Tournament's opening rounds were taking place. Like most everyone else, my brackets have taken some hits, but fortunately my Final Four picks of UNC, Duke, Louisville, and Oklahoma State remain intact.
The ACC has been rated as the best conference all year by the RPI and as the Sweet 16 begins three teams still have a chance to represent the conference in the Final Four for the 8th time in the last 9 years (the lone exception being 2003's team of Syracuse, Kansas, Marquette, and Texas. While the plaintive cries of East Coast bias are heard throughout the land, in truth it all comes down to winning and losing.
With that in mind, here's the conference breakdown for this weekend's games:
ACC (3): UNC, NC State, Duke. Unfortunately the best the ACC can do is to put two teams in the Final Four as UNC and State would play each other if they win their next game. Georgia Tech's beatdown and Wake Forest's loss to the
Mountaineers put an end to the ACC's chance for an unprecedented 3 final four teams. UNC is looking dominant right now, while Duke appeared vulnerable in their victory over Mississippi State. Still NC State is the wildcard and might be playing better than anyone left standing at this point. Julius Hodge has regained his ACC player of the year form from a year ago, and could very well carry the 'Pack to a surprise trip to St. Louis. Still, I think most everyone, including me, would prefer to see UNC-Duke: Round 3.
Big Ten (3): Illinois, Michigan State and Wisconsin. These three teams have been the cream of the crop all year in the Big Ten and have lived up to expectations (or in Wisconsin's case exceeded them) by making the Sweet 16. Illinois has been the favorite all year, is playing close to home, and will have no excuses if they don't make the Final Four. I don't like Michigan State's chances because they lack a true point guard, which has been historically vital to a late-season run. Plus, Duke has owned them the past few years and I don't see that changing. I do have to give mad love to the other P. Diddy though, that's Paul Davis. Wis-kahn-sin might be the most boring team in America, but they are getting it done. Still, they might have to go through two ACC teams to reach St. Louis and my East Coast snobbery won't permit me to believe that can happen. I love Bo Ryan though because he reminds me of the Principal in The Breakfast Club
Big East (2): West Virginia, Villanova. Wow, I can hardly write about this without detonating into a massive fireball of rage. As a Virginia Tech fan I hate all things West Virginia and care not a whit for the Big East. Also as a fan of class, manners, and common sense I hate almost everything that comes out of Philly. For the sake of humanity, let's hope that Ol' Roy and The General take care of business against these two pretenders.
Big Twelve (2): Oklahoma State, Texas Tech. For the reason's stated above, I will most certainly have my guns up for the Red Raiders this weekend, even if they have killed my brackets the past two years. Also, like our friend John Behan
, I love Bobby Knight. The longer Bobby Knight sticks around, the greater the chances are for a classic soundbite that ESPN will play ad nauseum for the next 20-30 years. I have Oklahoma State in the championship game, so I have a lot riding on the Cowboys. While they didn't look impressive in the first two rounds, I hope that their lackluster performace will serve as a wake up call, not cause for concern. OSU will certainly need to bring its "A-game" against Arizona and possibly Illinois. I think Eddie Sutton will have them ready.
Pac-10 (2): Arizona, Washington. I'll admit I know nothing about the Huskies except that they have a short guy who plays for them. Apparently they are pretty good, and look to be on a roll. Still they are in unfamiliar territory this late in the season as a #1 seed. Experience counts and that's why I like Pitino's kids to take out Lorenzo Romar's team. Lute Olsen and Arizona, however, have been here before. Salim Stoudamire is a stud, but I just can't get over the fact that the Wildcats lost to Virginia. Still, I expect the game against OSU to be a classic.
C-USA (1): Louisville. I have been touting Louisville all year as a possible surprise Final Four team. Their loss to Memphis at home gave me pause during the regular season, but they are back on track now after dismantling a very good Georgia Tech team. They were snubbed by the tournament committee, receiving a #4 seed after winning the C-USA tournament and being ranked #4 in the nation. That slight appears to have motivated them and now the whole nation knows what I've known since December, the Cardinals are fo' real.
Horizon (1): UW-Milwaukee. The Panthers are clearly this year's Sweet 16 Cinderella, but few expect them to stay on the same floor with Illinois very long. Still, head coach Bruce Pearl can take comfort in the fact that it is exactly this kind of tournament run that opens the door for big-time gigs at other schools.
Mountain West (1): Utah. Andrew Bogut might be the best player in the tournament right now and is NBA stock is undoubtedly soaring. Carmelo Anthony showed us two years ago what one great player can do for a team in the tournament. Bogut could give Kentucky problems, but I think Utah's overachieving will end on Friday.
SEC (1): Kentucky. The SEC secured its legacy as this year's most overrated conference with 4 of its 5 teams bowing out in the first weekend. Yet it's no surprise to see Kentucky still standing this late in the year as Tubby Smith has guided yet another group to the Sweet 16. This team is still young and inexperienced, but who wouldn't love to see another Duke-Kentucky regional final? The tradition, the pageantry, the competing shades of Blue and White. Just don't let Dick Vitale anywhere near that game if it happens.
The Huskies and Cardinals will kick things off at 7:10 on Thursday night, and I can't wait!