Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Monk's NCAA Tourney preview, part I

You've been counting down the hours since the selection show, penciling in your brackets and now . . . it's time.

Yes, it's what you have all been waiting for, The Monk's guide to this year's NCAA Tournament! You can check the archives from last March to see how my picks went last year. In two words: they stank. Then again, so did everyone else's because last season's Tourney was a complete fluke: a mid-major run to the Final Four, no #1 seeds in the Final Four, distinct lack of offense, and overall the worst Tourney since the 2000 Dance that Michigan State won after going through regionals just outside of Detroit.

I deserve a mulligan. After all, in '05, I ended up tying for victory with one of Wongdoer's colleagues in Wongdoer's large (50+ entrants) bracket pool. I pulled in third in '04. Each time the key to the high finish: picking three of the Final Four. In other words, don't fret much now about the 8/9 games because those are worth the least -- get the big ones right and you'll be in the hunt for the cash. As an added thought, plow through the stats and efficiency ratings at Ken Pomeroy's site. Let's go, bracket by bracket:

East -- the brackets once again have regional names! Thank goodness, the city by city notion just did not work. After all, there's uniformity in saying East Regional Champion 1987 and 2003 for Syracuse as opposed to West Regional Champion 1995 and Oakland Regional Champion 2006 for UCLA.

The East would have been the North Carolina Invitational except for one thing: Tyler Hansbrough's nose. The 19-point/8 rebound center for the Heels scored just 30 points in the ACC Tournament and hit just 9-23 shots from the floor. He's not right after the bonk on the nose from Duke's Gerald Henderson. There's enough talent in this region to take UNC down: Texas has Kevin Durant, who has more talent alone than the region's six lowest-seeds combined; Georgetown has Green and Hibbert and is the #1 team in the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency -- a stat with some meaning because '06 champ Florida ranked #2, '05 champ UNC ranked #1 and '04 champ UConn ranked #6 in their title-winning seasons. Even a couple of the minnows in this shark tank have bite: #11 GWU and the Texas Tech/BC winner are all Sweet 16 threats.

Ultimately, Georgetown is the best of the lot: it's the one team that can both beat UNC and halt Durant depending on the outcome of the UNC/Texas Sweet 16 matchup. Remember, Georgetown was thisclose to knocking off Florida last year -- the only team in the Tournament that gave the Gators a 40-minute battle. The Hoyas should announce their return to national prominence by becoming the first Big East team other than SU and UConn to reach the Final Four since 1989.

Hansbrough's injury hurts UNC's battle against Hibbert/Green/Ewing Jr., and the Regional title will be won in New Jersey, not closer to Tobacco Road. A Carmelo-esque run by the Longhorns would not shock anyone because Durant is spectacular, but the team's defense is not of the '03 Syracuse caliber and UT's probable opponents on the second weekend, UNC and potentially Georgetown, are much better than the teams seeded ahead of the '03 Orangemen.

Sweet 16 entrants: UNC, Texas, GW, Georgetown.

Overseeded: Washington State (a #3 seed?), USC (#5), Arkansas (not in NIT).

Underseeded: Marquette (#8).

No shock if . . . GW wins twice, Oral Roberts and New Mexico State play more than one game.

Burn the bracket if: Belmont beats Georgetown.

The top half of the South Region is soft: Virginia (#4) and Tennessee (#5) are both inconsistent. Heck, Virginia's RPI is LOWER than Syracuse's! The bottom half of the bracket is good: Texas A&M, Memphis, Louisville and Nevada all do not suck. Memphis has the nation's longest winning streak . . . but much of that is against the horrid Conference-USA. This should be Ohio State's party: the Buckeyes are strong enough to win slow-tempo physical games and fast enough to go up-tempo. If you like stats, you'll love A&M: #8 in the nation in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. You'll also like OSU: #5 in offensive efficiency, #10 on defense.

With Greg Oden dominating and OSU's wing players improving, the Buckeyes should roll to the Final Eight. Their opponent should be A&M, but that's a bit more dicey. The Aggies have a bad draw because they have to slip past Penn and then would likely play Louisville in round two. The game will be at Rupp Arena in Kentucky -- a virtual roadie for the Aggies. If they survive, they get the advantage by going to San Antonio for the regionals. At that point, it's a toss-up, but I'd take OSU because it won its conference tourney and A&M honked in the quarterfinals. Teams that bonk in their conference quarters never win the NCAA and rarely get to the Final Four (last one = Texas 2003).

Sweet 16 = OSU, Long Beach, A&M, Memphis

Overseeded = Virginia (#4, RPI = 55), Louisville (#6), Stanford (not in NIT)

Underseeded = BYU (#8, RPI = 18); Creighton (#10, RPI = 20)

No shock if . . . Albany dumps Virginia -- after all, the Greyhounds lost by a mere 13 as a #16 seed against seemingly mighty UConn last year; Creighton wins twice.

Burn the bracket if . . . Penn becomes the first lower-seeded Ivy League team to win its first-round matchup since 1996.

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