JEFF: Sizing Up The Field
By Jeff Falconio
The NCAA Tournament has finally arrived so I'll just get my picks out of the way now. I'm putting North Carolina, Georgetown, Texas, & UCLA in the Final Four with UCLA beating UNC for the title. Obviously those aren't flashy picks but when you look at the recent tournament history, there have not been very many big upsets in the later rounds except for George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006. I don't think there's any doubt UCLA and North Carolina are the best teams in basketball and as I see it, Texas and Georgetown have potential favorable matchups up to the regional finals.
Every year I put a little focus on one Cinderella team and there's no doubt in my mind that 13 seed Oral Roberts is that team. I think the selection committee did a good job putting the field together but how in the world can you justify giving Pittsburgh a four seed? The Panthers were a bubble team heading into the Big East tournament needing at least one win to solidify an at-large bid. Pittsburgh ended up winning the tourney but in doing so they had to play t he dreaded four games in four days. I just don't see how a team on the bubble can jump into being one of the top 16 seeds in just four days. While I'm on a tangent, I think the selection committee really misplaced Tennessee. I thought the Vols were a solid one seed despite an early exit in the SEC tournament. I don't really have a problem with Tennessee as a two seed but why are they in the same region as North Carolina? The Tar Heels are the overall number one seed in the tourney and that would suggest that the Vols are a weak number two seed and I don't see how that's possible. Furthermore, assuming Tennessee beats American, the Vols then face either an underseeded and dangerous Butler team or a South Alabama team that gets the benefit of playing in Birmingham. Then there's potential matchups with Louisville and Carolina still looming. Unfortunately for Bruce Pearl, it will be a bumpy ride on the road to the Final Four.
A few other teams to look out for: Davidson is one of the hottest teams in the country. Guard Stephen Curry is one of the best shooters in the game and the Wildcats get to play in Raleigh. Granted, I don't see Davidson getting past Georgetown in the second round but the pieces are in place for Davidson to make a run. Two five seeds that could make some noise are Clemson and Michigan State. The Tigers came alive in the ACC Tournament and served as a reminder that there is some talent in a relatively weak ACC this year. The Spartans are always a mystery in the tournament because they are well-coached and physical but also inconsistent. Even still, a potential matchup with Memphis in the Sweet 16 would be interesting. There's no doubt the Tigers are good and certainly athletic but they can be pushed around and they are terrible at the free throw line. A tough, physical team like Michigan State will knock off Memphis. Also, look for Baylor to justify getting one of the last at-large spots with a win over a young Purdue team that appears to be running out of gas at the end of the season.