Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Middle Foam Finger Salute to the NCAA Tournament

Thankgodthankgodthankgodthankgod... It's here. It's FINALLY here. Yep, folks, we are but ticks away from the (real) NCAA Tournament (congratulations, Niagara, you pikers)!

Let me tell you, this is MY favorite sports time of the year (not to be confused with my favorite arts time of the year, my favorite gourmet time of the year, or my favorite stuffed sandwich time of the year).

Also, let me get this off my chest before I explode with glee - my bracket sucks.

So, for that reason, you aren't going to find any of my upset picks in here (wait, did I pick any upsets?). Nor will you find my thoughts on who will take it all (cough, south, cough).

What I will give you is a tournament watcher's guide - Rosco-style (covered in brown mustard). And that way, I can just rant about any old thing and it might, to the undiscerning eye, look like science.

I can't wait for Thursday, because this year, seemingly more than the last, seems so close and so teeter-tottery that expecting winners in any matchup is not a good idea (except for Niagara - have fun on the flight home, Purple Eagles). But, a few teams to watch out for, if not only for the reason that they are just plain, old, fun to watch -

In the Midwest

Number 3: Oregon
I know, it's a bit of a homer pick, but watch out for my Ducks. Their starting lineup, albeit skewed to the guard, is pretty formidable. And I know, they are a number 3 seed, which shouldn't make anyone think they are a pushover - but they are able to win some pretty big games, and I wouldn't count them out of a big tournament push. Bryce Taylor and Malik Hairston (pictured) are matchup problems for most, and most don't even know who they are.
Number 11: Winthrop
How can you not root for a team that's one phoneme away from being a stodgy, old British guy with a foppish manner from a Bronte novel? Yeah, that's right, I thought you had a heart. Their only losses were to UNC, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, and Maryland. Noooooot bad. You looking for a lower seed that could make some noise in the bracket? Look no further than Winthrop. Potentially.

In the West

Number 16: Niagara
Nah, forget about it, these guys are toast.

Number #9: Villanova
Alright, I'm a 'Nova fan with no real right to it, but I can't help it. I would watch out for these boys, they are well coached, and have some great senior leadership and some tourney experience - they may turn some heads.

Number 5: Virginia Tech
I know, I know, this isn't football, but the Hokies are playing the old charm game with Rosco, let me tell you. They finally got over the hump and were able to beat Duke at Cameron (which they were millimeters away from last year). That could mean that all the cards are in place for VaTech this year to make some noise, you know on the basketball court, because, well, they also play basketball now.

In the East

Number 3: Washington State
Gotta like what the Cougars do. They are great "game managers" and find little ways to win - in the tournament that usually equals advancement. With that and their cautiously good backcourt, don't be surprised if that OTHER Washington state school get into the nicknamed rounds.

In the South

Number 3: Texas A&M
As a Longhorn alum, I probably should say this, but A&M is really, really, really good. With Acie "Roman Numeral" Law IV leading this top to bottom talented squad, this team has a major chance at scaring some of the team's that forgot that there was a team in College Station. But, because I am sworn in by blood to do so, I also must say - SUCK IT, Aggies!

Number 5: Tennessee
Lofton is back. 'Nuff said.

Number 7: Nevada
Don't underestimate the Wolfpack - they have some great talent, and with Fazekas stealing the limelight from Kemp and Sessions, they have some under-the-radar folks that can burn anyone on any night.

The BIG BOYS this year, however, are pretty solid. And Florida's track record and untouchable talent, they could have the tools to win it all again, BUT, they might have to go through a good Wisconsin team that, although I find them suspect, could eke their way into the championship - but, really, when I think about it, they won't.

To me, Kansas are the shakiest of the numero unos, just because of their history in the tournament. They have a boatload of NBA-caliber players, but they are young, and from my viewpoint a little inconsistent. Look for a lot of close games that might edge out in favor of the underdog. If that's not tough enough, UCLA is a number two and has the cajones to run the whole table. Not to mention they may have the ugliest player in the tournament (I realize that's a BIG statement, but come on) - Mr. Mata - so, whatever the Bruins' outcome, they have my deepest sympathies.
North Carolina is another team I am unsure what to think about. While they have a talented team and a coach that finally won one, I just am too unsure about their path to the Final Four. I realize I probably just locked them into another championship (like I did a couple years ago), but at least they will have to prove it to me. Georgetown may be the most dangerous number 2, solely based on how hot they are right now. Outside of Ohio State, they have a viable and dominant center (sorry, Pittsburgh, should have pulled out the old smelling salts on Aaron before the Big East championship) in the tourney. They shouldn't be overlooked.

Ohio State might be the strongest team out there. Sure, they play that "boring as hell" cringe-worthy Big Ten basketball - but we've all seen that leads to NCAA wins (just maybe not the greatest TV ratings). With Oden playing as fiercely as he has lately, I can't imagine an early exit for the Buckeyes. Memphis are a bit of an enigma. Maybe it's because their schedule didn't include anyone not named Powderpuff University? In any event, I can't see them making a huge splash - but if they do, great, it'd be their best competition all year.

The PLAYERS to watch come tourney time are, for me, the biggest draw to the whole shebang. In terms of FRESHMEN, you can't go wrong by watching Kevin Durant (my boy!), Greg "Gentle MuthaF'in Giant" Oden, or Thaddeus "I Put the G in G-Tech" Young. But a couple of sleeper freshmen may have the biggest impact.

Take a look at Oregon's Tajuan Porter, the Detroit import, with a Kiki Clark complex. If he's hitting his out-of-the gym range bombs, forget about it.

Also, another guard to keep a look our for Villanova's Scotty Reynolds, a dangerous marksman, who has gotten better every game.

Be wary of Gonzaga's swingman of the future, Matt Bouldin, who has only become a better, and smarter, scorer with each game he plays.

But what about some of the experienced dudes? Besides insta-names like Acie Law IV and Aaron Affalo (whose name I still love pronounced by some of the color commentators), Be on the look out for some of these folks.

Definitely pay attention to Vanderbilt's silky swingman Derrick Byars, who can light it up any night. What about A.J. Graves over at Butler? The sniper extraordinaire is gonna look for that open 30-footer anytime. Finally, look out for Jamaal Tatum in Saluki country, one of the great floor generals in the tournament.
That's just a teeny bit of the greatness you'll experience come Thursday. I could rant on, but I am trying to limit my ranting (my sponsor agrees it's the right thing to do)...

Just remember, if nothing I said works out, at least you'll enjoy watching me cry.

$20 and out.

Love and kisses,

If you're wondering why I didn't have anything on Texas and my boys Durant, Abrams, Augustin, Mason, James, Atchley, Winder, and ESPECIALLY Matt Hill (and his 'fro) - it's because they are so TIGHT I don't even have to mention their excellence. And, I don't want to jinx them. Hook 'em!

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