17 March 2008

That time o'year again

With every year that goes by, I'm increasingly unable to deny the obvious that the NCAA tournament is the best American sports has to offer. In three weeks I'll go back to feeling guilty over the way big-money sports exploits athletes and academic institutions, but for now I plan to sit back and enjoy it.

I'll try to keep my write-ups shorter this year, if for no other reason than having fewer smart things to say as the years go by. At the very least, I'll say fewer dumb things. Judge for yourself. I'm also much less confident going into the tournament than last year, when I felt Florida was head and shoulders above the rest of the field. This year is much more wide open, and I honestly haven't seen many of the top contenders play more than a few minutes of ball all season.

With 5.1 Dolby Nostalgia Where Available. (winners in bold)

EAST Region:

1 North Carolina vs 16 Mount St. Marys OR Coppin St.

Mount St. Marys has been out of the tournament since the retirement of legendary coach Jim Phelan. Unfortunately, they haven't quite made it this year either, as they still have to play the silly-as-all-hell play-in game. If there's going to be a play-in game, let it be between the last two at-large teams. It wouldn't be any more arbitrary. These teams should get their reward by playing in the real show.

8 Indiana vs 9 Arkansas

A curious side effect of Tradition Cults is how they tend to restore balance to the competitive force. Take a storied basketball program--Indiana, let's say--inject a dose of rich old yahoos screeching to turn the clock back to 1976 and voila! The rest of your conference now has a chance to win. Wait, this didn't happen to your school? Who knew? The Alma Mater's season has come unglued after coach Kelvin Samspson was sacked in an illegal phone-call row, dashing alumni hopes of a Final Four run. Enjoy the tournament, Hoosier fans; it'll be the last one you see for a while, and you'll have a short stay.

5 Notre Dame vs 12 George Mason

Mason has two starters remaining from that improbable Final Four run two years ago in Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell. Alas, the supporting cast isn't quite as deadly this time around, and a repeat performance is unlikely. I'm contractually obligated to hate Notre Dame, and thoroughly enjoyed their ouster to Winthrop last year, but they have the pieces to make a nice run this year. However, they just may be streaky enough to keep this interesting...

4 Washington State vs 13 Winthrop

Wikipedia says Winthrop is one of South Carolina's finest academic institutions and has twice as many women students as men. All this really means is that I would've stuck out twice as hard there. They've also got quite a dynamic men's hoops program, making their fourth straight appearance and being very competitive in the prior three. Unfortunately, they've lost several of the principals involved in the afore-mentioned win over Notre Dame, including the head coach. So why am I picking them here? Tactics. On my first pass of the brackets, I realized I don't have any 4's or 5's losing. Given the improbability of that happening, I have to start looking for the most likely outcome. I think WSU's methodical pace and relative lack of athleticism could keep Winthrop around long enough to cause trouble.

6 Oklahoma vs 11 St. Joseph's

First crotchety old-guy moment: I remember OU head coach Jeff Capel when he was a player at North Carolina. And it doesn't feel like that long ago. I loves me some St. Joe's, but picking my way through this team there doesn't appear to be much worth getting excited over. Hope I'm wrong. I don't even know why. I hate Philadelphia! (Maybe I just hate Temple more...)

3 Louisville vs 14 Boise State

No, Boise State's basketball team does not play on a blue court. And, no, Indiana folks, their coach is not that Greg Graham. Perhaps if these problems were rectified the school would make more frequent trips here. This is their first since 1994.

7 Butler vs. 10 South Alabama

They did it again. After my griping one year ago over the Butler-Old Dominion first round matchup, the tournament committee has assigned two cuddly mid-major powers opposite each other rather than let each of them take a swing at an overripe mid-table grapefruit from one of the power leagues. And now they're rubbing our nose in it; there are three other similar first-round games. But we still have to snore through Villanova-Clemson. Butler had an even better year than last season's Sweet 16 run and their reward is a drop of two seeds. They should handle South Alabama easily, and could terrorize Tennessee in the second round. This could, alas, be the last such run for awhile; much of the team's rotation is made up of seniors.

2 Tennessee vs 15 American

American's debut is against the ever-chaotic Vols, who could make a brilliant run or collapse in terrific fashion, and perhaps both in the same game. They won't enjoy their second round opponent.

Playin' it out

1 North Carolina vs 9 Arkansas
5 Notre Dame vs 13 Winthrop (oh, tempting!)
3 Louisville vs 6 Oklahoma
2 Tennessee vs 7 Butler

1 North Carolina vs 5 Notre Dame
3 Louisville vs 7 Butler

1 North Carolina vs 7 Butler