I had this column all figured out last week on a long road trip home from Athens. I was all fired up about the public versus private school debate in the high school sports arena, something the Ohio High School Athletic Association needs to continue to deal with. Well, when a letter arrived upon my desk from the esteemed Mr. Tom Breeze saying that he was looking forward to me writing about the upcoming NCAA Tournament, I changed my mind. Talk about pressure!
Actually, I may not be real qualified to write about college basketball. (Nice from a sports guy, huh?) I very rarely get to watch any college basketball. Why? Obviously, because I am too busy watching high school basketball. By the time I get home the television in our living room is already dominated by The Big Bang Theory or HGTV. To be honest, the only team that I have watched a full game of this season is, well you all know the answer to that one.
Before I talk tournament, let me state up front that there is one thing about the whole process that I just don’t get. If a team gets a #1 seed, isn’t that reward enough? Why do they get to also play in their home state? To continue, why would a #3 seed get to play in their home state? A high seed is good enough, go on the road and prove yourselves worthy of the honor.
We might as well start with that dreaded team from Lexington. Admittedly, the Wildcats looked like a different team in last weekend’s SEC Tournament but still were saddled with a #8 seed. If they manage a first round (or whatever round they call it) win over Kansas State, the unbeaten Wichita State Shockers await. Most of the so-called experts actually are picking the Wildcats to win that one so I’ll go with that. Of course, that would mean another UK-Louisville match up which is what the selection committee really wants to see.
Speaking of the Cards, they go into the NCAA with a giant chip on their shoulder, getting just a #4 seed when all expected much higher. I would not be surprised at all to see Louisville in the Final Four once again. Experience and “the being there” factor may just mean another run at a title for the Cards.
Every year we see how the committee has sense of humor, hence Ohio State and Dayton in the first round. The Buckeyes usually avoid in-state games during the regular season but the committee laughed and said not this time. I was actually shocked at how many experts picked the Flyers to win that game but I think that Ohio State rolls to a match up with Syracuse. How will the offensively challenged Buckeyes fare against the vaunted Orange zone?
All in all, the opening round games in this tournament are very difficult to pick. A lot of the pundits are jumping on the bandwagon of Stephen F. Austin, winners of 26 straight games, as this year’s Cinderella squad. On the other end of the spectrum, the bandwagon pick to win it all is the Michigan State Spartans. This year’s tourney is really quite a toss-up which makes it even more interesting for all of us who will try to get the paper done early in order to watch a day full of games.
How about the Cincinnati Bearcats? One of the best defensive squads in the nation, the Cats have an intriguing opener with Harvard. (No SAT jokes please.) I admittedly was shocked that it wasn’t set up for a Cincinnati-Ohio State game somewhere in the brackets. As it is, the Bearcats face a tough opener where a win leads to a game with Michigan State. Ouch! Don’t sleep on the Xavier Musketeers either, though their season might be over by the time you read this since they were in one of “play-in” games last night. Sorry NCAA, that’s not the first round.
I will be the first to tell you that I am absolutely, positively terrible at picking games, That is why I don’t even bother getting in any “pick-em” pools any more. They turned out to be cash donations that the IRS won’t let me take off my taxes. So with the knowledge that you in no way want to listen to me, here are some of my picks.
Pittsburgh, UCLA, New Mexico, Memphis, Iowa State, Oklahoma State (take that Kyle Wiltjer), Baylor, Texas. and Oklahoma. Now go put all those on your bracket and get set to give your money away.
I have no idea who the Final Four might be, if it’s not the Wildcats, and it likely won’t be, do I even need to care? Let me give you my title game—Florida vs. Louisville. Two of the best coaches in the game go head to head for another NCAA title.
Now, make sure you click the “like” button when I get this column posted on Facebook. That will be my assurance that someone besides Mr. Breeze actually read it. And let me add for one final time this season, Go Cats!
Mark Carpenter can be reached at 937-544-239 or on Twitter @adamscosports.