2012 NCAA Tournament Preview
In the second year of the 68 team tournament and the “First Four,” the big question is whether someone can repeat what Virginia Commonwealth did last season when they reached the Final Four. Obviously it is a near impossible task for the winners who get to play top seeds. Truly the bottom four teams as seen by the selection committee. One possible interesting match up that could arise is Western Kentucky facing number one overall Kentucky, and with a win over Mississippi Valley State that will happen. Meanwhile look for Vermont to get by Pat Knight in the other #16 seed play in. Meanwhile the best chance to repeat the run of VCU is the winner of the game between California and South Florida game. Cal was the Pac-12 favorite before the season and was the conferences lone at large team. I see the Golden Bears slipping by the Bulls in this one, while BYU should handle Iona. The Gales are the least worthy team in the tournament, though with a tough schedule it’s not hard to understand why they got a bid over Drexel.
The last time the Final Four was in New Orleans, it was the Syracuse Orange who cut down the nets, winning Jim Boeheim his first National Championship. This Syracuse is a good bet to do it again, as they enter the tournament as the second overall seed after a terrific 31-2 season. They could run into a scare if Kansas State brings their A game after beating Southern Miss, but in the end the Orange should waltz to Boston.
Vanderbilt is coming off a stunning upset of Kentucky, is a good pick to be bitten by the upset bug themselves as they face Harvard, look for Linsanity to catch the Crimson as they slip by Vandy. Meanwhile, Montana will flip Wisconsin, who will once again lay their traditional first round egg, after that look for the Grizzlies to wear the glass slipper on the way to the Sweet 16.
Another upset in the East, will see Texas knock off Cincinnati, who despite their strong showing in the Big East Tournament is not a strong title contender, while Texas has the talent to go far if they get hot. The Longhorns however, won’t get that far as the Florida State Seminoles who beat Duke and Carolina twice and won their first ACC Tournament is a good bet to reach the Sweet 16.
Last year’s number one overall Ohio State, is a number two seed this year, but with their size, they can run the table at any time and they should have no problem reaching Bean Town, as Loyola Maryland and Gonzaga don’t match up very well with the Buckeyes.
Regionals @ Boston, MA
Syracuse, Ohio State, Florida State, Montana
Just getting to the Sweet 16 will be a great story for Montana, but midnight will strike when they face Syracuse, as the Orange balance will be too much for them to overcome.
Last year the Buckeyes, were the favorites going into the tournament with Jared Sullinger as the monster on the post, look for them to get to the Elite Eight this time around by beating Florida State, who does not have the offensive firepower to match Ohio State.
In the Elite Eight it will be a match of two powerhouses as Syracuse tangles with Ohio State. This could easily be one of the best games in the tournament as the two teams are evenly matched. However, in the end I like Fab Melo to be the difference as the Orange head to the Bayou.
This is the regional that could get crazy or it could go chalk as no team is really impressive, while #1 seed North Carolina is the overwhelming favorite to reach the Superdome. The Tar Heels should be able to do the hustle to the regionals in St. Louis as they face a play in and Alabama who should slip by Creighton.
As for the other play in winner in this region, look for California to stun Temple, who was exposed the Atlantic 10 Tournament, while Michigan who despite their ugly loss in the Big Ten semifinals is the best team by far in this pod and will be team that gets to see the Gateway Arch.
NC State is the great example of a team getting hot at the right time, as their strong showing in the ACC Tournament earned them a trip to the NCAA Tournament; look for them to continue to make noise as they upset San Diego State and Georgetown to make it to the Sweet 16.
Kansas was disappointed with their #2 seed, but their loss to Baylor in the Big XII Semifinals cost them a #1, and no matter what seed they are the Jayhawks clearly overachieved this year as they were expected to be in a rebuilding mode at the start of the season. This is why they are ripe for the pickens in second round. Look for Purdue to get by St. Mary’s and Kansas on the way to St. Louis.
Regionals @ St. Louis, MO
North Carolina, Michigan, Purdue, NC State
Michigan lives and dies by the three point shot, in the Edward Jones Dome it could be very difficult as the depth perception it different than a regular arena. Add to the fact the Tar Heels are good at stopping second chance points and you will see why this match up will be Carolina Blue.
Meanwhile it will be a day for Tobacco road in the Lou, as NC State upends Purdue led C.J. Leslie to set up a match up with rival North Carolina with a trip to New Orleans on the line.
In the ACC Tournament semifinals, NC State had a chance to beat Carolina, before C.J. Leslie fouled out with eight minutes left. This time around it may not that close, especially if the Tar Heels have a healthy John Henson. Injuries perhaps short circuited UNC this year as they were the preseason number one. In a better region perhaps they would not get to the Final Four, the problem is there is no team that matches up with them in the Midwest.
Kentucky enters the tournament as the clear favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans. However, they may face some interesting tests in the first two rounds. Playing in enemy territory in Louisville, there could be plenty of Cardinal fans on hand to jeer them, especially if they face Western Kentucky in the first round. After they climb over the Hilltoppers, they then will face defending champion UConn. The Huskies were not expected to win it all last year, but they did and despite not being nearly as good this season the muscle memory of last year could give the Wildcats a scare. However., Kentucky did not got 32-2 for nothing and they will get to Atlanta by knocking out the champs.
Another team looking for deja vu is last year’s Cinderella Virginia Commonwealth, look for Shaka Smart to shock the Wichita State Shockers, but midnight will come early this time around as Indiana will go make it to the Georgia Dome after beating New Mexico State and VCU.
Colorado stunned the Pac 12 and earned a bid by winning the conference tournament, I see them taking the momentum one step forward as they beat UNLV. However, with their glow in the dark uniforms I see Baylor reaching the sweet 16, as they glow in Albuquerque like an unknown test subject during the Manhattan Project.
Much like Kansas, Duke has overachieved this year. Next year could be a big year for the Blue Devils, but before that they will take a fall in this year’s tournament, and that fall will come at the hands of Notre Dame who will slip by Xavier and will be doing a jig on the way to Atlanta.
Regionals @ Atlanta, GA
Kentucky, Baylor, Indiana, Notre Dame
Prior to their loss in the SEC Championship, Kentucky’s only loss this year came against Indiana. In the Sweet 16 Round, the Hoosiers will be laying in the weeds again, as the Wildcats face another test on the way to New Orleans. The first game was in Bloomington, with Christian Watford hitting the game winning three at the buzzer for Indiana. This time around look for Kentucky to get a big lead and not allow any chance the Hoosiers can do it again.
In Atlanta, look for Baylor to continue to shine as they out Green the Irish. The Baylor Bears have plenty of talent and can be a good team for years to come, highlighting the entire athletic departments rise to power.
In the end, Kentucky is too good to not at least reach the Final Four; Baylor could give them a test. However, the Wildcats have too much talent in too many different positions, as Coach John Calipari’s one year and out philosophy while ultimately being bad for college basketball is working and will get the Wildcats back into the Final Four.
One of these years a #16 seed will beat a #1 seed. This could be a year to watch, as Long Island is capable of running up and down the court and turning the game into a track meet. However, there is a reason Michigan State is a number one seed and it’s not just because they had a good season. Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the country and they will be able to avoid the upset. After that they should make it to Phoenix with a win over Memphis.
Louisville is another team that could be getting hot at the right time; look for them to continue the momentum of winning the Big East Tournament, by getting to the Sweet 16 with wins over Davidson and New Mexico.
Murray State is the team nobody wants to respect, even as they were the last team to lose a game they were not anywhere near the top five, while some even suggested they still needed to win their conference tournament to get into the Big Dance. There is a reason they went 30-1 and they will show it as they should get some good home support in Louisville as they beat Colorado State and Marquette to reach Phoenix.
You can flip a coin in the Florida-Virginia game, but it won’t matter who wins and I do believe it will be the Gators, as neither team has a chance against Missouri, who is another team hitting their stride at the right time and they are not just talented they are deep on the bench.
Regionals @ Phoenix, AZ
Michigan State, Missouri, Louisville, Murray State
The Spartans have made several surprise trips to the Final Four, and with the number one seed, they are a good bet to go to New Orleans. However, look for Louisville who has one of the best defenses in the country to knock them off in the Regional Semifinals.
As for the other Blue Grass state team in the region, Murray State simply does not have the weapons to match Missouri whose can get a big game from any number of players.
In Championship Week, both Missouri and Louisville had big weeks and both are capable of having a big March. However, I just look at the several players who can score inside and outside and its for this reason the Tigers will be heading to the Superdome.
Final Four-New Orleans, LA
Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, Missouri
Missouri has a lot of talent and a lot of big time players, but they don’t have Super Freshman Anthony Davis who has been the big man for the Wildcats all season. Davis can do it all, block score and rebound. The Wildcats are also just as deep as the Tigers and have several players that can easily have a big game. Look for them to continue to show why they are top seed as they leave March and make it to the title game.
Syracuse versus North Carolina, a match up filled with history a match up that will be entertaining to watch. What should help the Orange is their balance, and while North Carolina is quite capable of winning the game, Syracuse has played better all season against top ranked teams, and for that reason they will reach the finals.
Syracuse and Kentucky one and two, these have been the best two teams all season, and they will be the last two teams standing. The last time the NCAA Tournament was in the Superdome it was Carmelo Anthony who guided the Orange to their first National Championship. This time its Melo Orange again, as in Fab Melo, whose presence in the middle will be the difference as they edge Kentucky in what should be an entertaining final. One stat that holds in the favor of both final teams, they both play well against other top ranked teams. However, Syracuse is a tad bit better holding a 5-0 record against the Top 25 entering the tourney.