Yesterday, I saw a sign on Franklin St. that asked, “Do you have NIT fever?”
It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen at UNC. Frankly, I’d rather pretend the NIT didn’t exist. Let’s talk about the NCAA tournament.
Every season I agonize over my bracket. March is the one time each year that my otherwise inappropriate obsession with basketball becomes mainstream. So in the four days between Selection Sunday and the start of the tournament, I release a lot of pent-up energy researching for my bracket. I start by dutifully looking at general team characteristics, coaching styles, wins vs. top 50 teams, etc., but eventually delve into terrifyingly raw philosophical deconstructions and epistemic paradoxes. Every year I go on a journey from hope to desperation to exhaustion to existential angst to a recognition of my own insignificance in the universe to the understanding that Georgia Tech simply doesn’t have the guard play to deal with Oklahoma State’s press.
To avoid a post of Jonesian proportions, I’ll only write about the most intriguing games.
#5 Temple vs. #12 Cornell: A lot of people have Cornell winning. Cornell has become one of this year’s biggest “water-cooler dandies”- people who follow basketball a moderate amount have heard of Cornell’s surprising flirtation with the top 25, know that they’re supposed to be good but don’t exactly know why and are mostly picking them as an upset special to impress their equally semi-informed friends. But I don’t see it. Temple and Cornell play very similar styles, mostly because Temple’s coach (Fran Dunphy, who was spent four years coaching under the venerable Gary Williams) was Cornell’s coach’s mentor. Temple’s just plays that style better. They handily beat Penn, who handily beat Cornell. The most telling stat to me: Temple holds its opponents to 28% 3-point shooting (Cornell’s offense runs on the three). In the end, I don’t think the mystical forces of fashionability can overcome talent.
Final four pick: Kentucky. West Virginia could be tough in the Elite 8, but they’re just so boring. They only have one real scoring threat (a relative term in the case of West Virginia). Kentucky’s inexperience scares me a little, but they’re just so talented. Of course, when it comes to teams coached by John Calipari, the number of final four appearances is probably directly proportional to the number of recruiting violations committed.
#4 Purdue vs. #13 Siena: Purdue is without their #2 scorer and rebounder Robbie Hummel. They scored 11 points in the first half of their last game (they only had 4 points in the first 16 minutes). This kind of feels like a trap. Siena seems like an all-too-easy upset pick. But then again…
#8 California vs. #9 Louisville: This year’s batch of 8/9 games is relatively disappointing. Cal/Louisville is the most interesting 8/9 game to me. Louisville did beat Syracuse twice. But Louisville hasn’t done much outside of beating Syracuse, and they have trouble defending the three, which is one of Cal’s strong points. I’d lean towards Cal.
Final Four pick: Baylor. I mean, Duke does have an unconscionably easy road to the final four. But Baylor does have LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter. Not only are their names awesome, they’re also one of the nation’s better one-two scoring threats. And, if Duke’s outside shooting is off, they’ll have to deal with Ekpe Udoh, the nation’s fifth-ranked shot blocker. So Baylor winning isn’t inconceivable.
#4 Vanderbilt vs. #13 Murray State: Each year, there are one or two teams that shoot over 50% while holding their opponents to less than 40% shooting. The 30 win Murray State is one of those statistical anomalies this year. Plus, Vanderbilt is a really weak four seed. I love Murray State for the upset.
#5 Butler vs. #13 Murray State: I have a friend whose opinion I respect who has Butler losing to UTEP in the first round. I would love to see a UTEP/ Murray State match-up. Either way, I have Murray State in my Sweet 16.
Final four pick: Kansas State. I was leaning this way anyways, but with Onuaku iffy, I feel pretty certain about this pick.
#3 Georgetown vs. #7 Tennessee: This is hard to pick, simply because both of these teams are so bipolar. Both have really good wins (Tennessee beat Kansas and Kentucky, Georgetown beat Syracuse, Villanova, Duke, and Pittsburg) and they both have bad losses (Tennessee just lost to Kentucky 74-45, Georgetown has lost to Rutgers and South Florida)
#4 Maryland vs. #5 Michigan State: I know some people picking Michigan State simply because of Tom Izzo. But frankly, I don’t respect any team that lost to UNC this year.
Final four pick: Kansas. This is a really loaded bracket, so there are a couple of viable candidates. To me it comes down to: Sherrod Collins + Cole Aldrich +Xavier Henry + Marcus Morris> Evan Turner (but just barely).
For now, Duke delenda est.