Like every year, this year’s tournament has been filled with upset specials. I’ve been watching the tournament for basically my entire life, yet I’m always surprised by the amount of upsets and how they occur. It seems irrational and inconceivable that a double-digit seed from a small conference could ever beat a national powerhouse, but it happens every year.
This year’s Sweet 16 only has two teams that have no business being there: North Carolina State University and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The 12th-seeded Panthers of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have rolled over both University of Alabama and Boston College, two teams with seemingly more talent, more experience and definitely more potential. However, the Panthers have out-hustled, outsmarted and outplayed both teams. They create lots of turnovers, fast break opportunities and easy layups. Tomorrow they will face top-seeded University of Illinois, and based on Milwaukee’s play thus far in the tournament, I see no reason why they can’t give the Illini a battle. However, I don’t see Illinois losing just yet. I think they’ll get knocked out by the winner of the Oklahoma State University-University of Arizona game. If Zona can get past OSU, I see no reason why the Wildcats can’t make a run at a national championship. They have a legitimate big man, Channing Frye, and a big-time scorer, Salim Stoudamire. I think you’ll see the Cats playing in the national championship game. Even though Illinois has had a great season, and they seem to be the safe pick out of this bracket, I don’t see them advancing if only because they have not been tested at all this season. The Big Ten had a down year, and the Illini played a soft non-conference schedule besides early-season games against overrated Gonzaga University, University of Cincinnati and Wake Forest University.
NC State has one of the best and most exciting players in the country, Julius Hodge, but they will only go as far as he can take them. They have proven that when they are playing their best, they can compete with the best, but the question mark all season with the Wolfpack has been consistency. They have played tough against some of the top teams in the country all year, and that experience will get them past Wisconsin and into the Elite 8. The other game in that region, University of North Carolina-Villanova University, pits an ACC powerhouse against a Big East middle-of-the-roader. The Wildcats have been playing as well as anyone in the country during the second half of the season. They have won nine of their last 10 games and could knock off the highly-favored Tar Heels. The upset bid will only get tougher with the loss of their star, Curtis Sumpter, to injury. With all the talent the Heels boast this season, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be a lock for the Final Four. But like I said before, anything is possible in the NCAA Tournament.
The bracket that everyone is talking about is the Albuquerque Region. With top-seeded University of Washington playing fourth-seeded University of Louisville, and sixth-seeded Texas Tech University playing seventh-seeded West Virginia University, anything is possible. Bobby Knight has done an incredible job turning around the Texas Tech program, and he deserves all the credit he is getting. He’ll have his work cut out for him, however, with West Virginia. After losing seven of nine games in the middle of their season, the Mountaineers had a nice run to the Big East Finals and are playing about as well as they can right now. The game between Louisville and Washington is a game that could have easily come in the Final Four. Washington is a team that doesn’t get much press because they play out West, so many people, including me, don’t know much about them. But I do know that they score a lot of points, and guard Nate Robinson can flat-out play. He takes care of the ball and has the ability to drive and shoot. Louisville is a tremendously talented team led by Francisco Garcia, but four other players average at least nine points per game. The winner of the one-four game will have no trouble in the Elite Eight, regardless of the opponent.
The Austin bracket is filled with experienced coaches and storied programs. With Duke University, University of Kentucky and Michigan State University in this bracket, it’s a crapshoot as to who will advance to the Final Four. And no one would be shocked to see the underdog University of Utah stun them all. The Utes’ All-American center, Andrew Bogut, is a force to be reckoned with, and although he’ll be a stiff in the NBA, he’s a stud in the NCAA. The matchup between Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo will be intriguing to watch if only to see what Izzo devises defensively to stop sharpshooter J.J. Redick. Redick has been quiet in the tournament thus far; if he gets hot, the Blue Devils might be the toughest team in the tournament.
So, now that I’ve previewed each bracket, I’ll tell you that I like Arizona, UNC, Duke and Louisville in the Final Four. I think UNC will topple Arizona in the finals, with Roy Williams finally shedding his choke-artist label. UNC 85-Arizona 77.