Here at the Painted Area we focus most of our energy covering the big boys who play-for-pay. But now it's the time of the year where we give some love to the guys who play for free--well, maybe not at Memphis or Louisville--but you get the idea.
It's March, and once again the NCAAs' tractor-beam has sucked The Painted Area in with the best format in all sports. In my mind, few days on the yearly calender are better than the opening Thursday & Friday of the tourney. The 4x4 set-up of games is hard to beat (Well, it's not quite always 4 games x 4 time slots, because sometimes you get that 5pm EST West Coast game, but close enough). Granted, the sheer quality of basketball of the NBA playoffs can't be touched, but the excitement that the tourney can churn in the first 2 rounds is hard to beat. Below are some bullet-point early musings about the dance:
--The one 1st round upset I feel good about picking is Long Beach St. over Tennessee. Long Beach is a senior-laden team with some good athletes and are led by a Aaron Nixon, a guard with great post-up ability. Tenn was nearly upset by Winthrop last year and I just that impressed with SEC this year outside of Florida.
--I like 11-seed Winthrop over 6-seed Notre Dame. This seems to be a chic upset special, but I have liked Winthrop all year, and they just happened to be matched up vs. a Irish team that I don't think is that impressive.
--I planned on Davidson being the dark horse that I was going ride before the brackets were announced. But now that they're matched up with Maryland, I am not so sure I like their upset chances. Maryland has been playing well lately and are filled with great athletes.
--I think I am going with VCU over Duke. I am not official with that pick right now, but I just think VCU is very good, and have the athletes to give Duke plenty of problems.
--The upper sub-regional in the East is brutal. To me, you have 3 teams that are Final 4 caliber: UNC, Texas, & USC. Yes, USC is that good, even though they get very little credit from ESPN (Surprise, they play most of their games on FOX Sport Net & are on the West Coast, so why should Dicky V worry about them). Their perimeter is as good as any in the country. And Nick Young is probably the most underrated player/draft prospect in the nation. Although, Arkansas could cause some problems with their size, something that USC lacks. Also, Marquette & Mich. State are better than their respecrtive 8 & 9 seeds would indicate, and the winner will give UNC a mighty tough test in the 2nd round.
--I really like Oregon's chances of advancing to the Elite 8. I think their sub-regional is somewhat weak--I am just not that sold on Wisconsin right now with Butch out & their suspect outside shooting. Plus, Oregon's backcourt is one of the deepest in the country, and have plenty of guys who can fill it up & shoot lights out from deep.
--Kansas is scary good. No team has more raw talent than the Jayhawks (not even Florida). They have 4-5 players who are legit 1st round prospects. They have great athletes at every position compounded with great length. They have multiple guys who can fill it up--Chalmers, Wright, Rush, Arthur, & even Collins off the bench can create opportunites. If they can just concentrate on the defensive end, they should be in really good shape. But they did get a tough draw with possibly having to play to best 2-seed, UCLA, in San Jose.
--Syracuse & Drexel got hosed. No way Arkansas should have gotten in. The SEC was the weakest of the 6 major conferences in my mind. The SEC having the 2nd-ranked league in the RPI is a joke, because no way was it better than the PAC-10 or Big East. Probably would not have taken Illinois this year as well. Besides OSU & Wisconsin, I thought the Big 10 was pretty mediocre. Syracuse was 10-6 in the Big East this year--at worst the 3rd best conf. in the country--and were 7-3 in their last 10 games. Quite honestly, I can't think of a better team that has gotten robbed in recent memory than this year's Cuse team. And this is coming from a guy who loves seeing the Orange choke, especially love pestering Cuse fans (who grew up all around me) when they underachieve.
--Another small note about getting hosed: How did the committee put Niagara in the play-in game over the likes of Central Conn. St? Cent Conn comes from the NEC conf., which is one of the worst leagues in Div I along with the MEAC or SWAC. Granted, the MAAC is nothing special, but it is easily better than the NEC. Plus, Niagara's RPI was about 10 spots better than Cent Conn. You can bet Hubie & the old man are none too pleased with the Purple Eagles heading to Dayton.