March 13, 2006
NCAA Tourney '06: The Year of the Mid-Major
If you have even a passing interest in college basketball, then by now you know that this year's NCAA tournament has more mid-major schools than usual. Whatever the reason, I think you can be sure of one thing: someone's going to look like an ass. Either the mid-major schools, the Missouri Valley in particular, are going to achieve at least moderate success (a couple sweet sixteen spots and a .500 overall record would be decisive) which would prove the naysayers, especially Billy Packer, wrong. The other option is that tthe mid-majors flop and the committee catches even more flak than they already have. I'm hoping for the former.
Last year I went a little overboard and tossed around my unwanted and uneducated thoughts about the entire tournament. This year, I'll confine my uneducated and unwanted thoughts to the things that I think may miss the mainstream a bit. I do so hate just regurgitating the popular opinions.
Upset of the Tournament:
Winthrop over Tennessee: Yes Tennessee is ranked too high, but that's not the entire reason I'll pick them to be the big upset of the year. They have been streaky all year and are not a very good rebounding team. Also, I don't think the SEC was all that strong this year. Winthrop is an excellent rebounding team and is deep enough not to be worn down by Bruce Pearl's up-tempo system. And the really important factor is that Winthrop won at Marquette and lost by 3 and 10at Alabama and Memphis respectively. They've had plenty of experience playing with the big boys.
In the absence of a big breakdown, the Illinois shouldn't have too much trouble making the sweet sixteen for the third straight year and for the fifth time in six years. Then they'll face an extremely tough Connecticut team. If they get by them (and it's quite possible, though perhaps a bit unlikely) then my bet is a rematch with Michigan State in the Elite Eight which would be a toss-up considering that would be the fourth game of the year between the two teams. I think Illinois is going to be plenty motivated by Bruce Weber after their abysmal conference tournament. If they need more motivation, they should check out espn.com. As I have no classes and no life, I read all of the articles I could find on the site about the NCAA tournament. Unless you're looking at the bracket itself, Illinois is not mentioned once, not even in passing. Their expectations seem to be quite low outside of the state. This is a good thing.
Missouri Valley Conference:
These guys really need to step up and win at least one first round game and not get blown out in any of them. That would really shut the mouths of all the naysayers. On the other hand, if they go 0-4, then the MVC should probably not look forward to getting this many bids again any time soon. As I grew up cheering for Bradley, I'm happy they made the tournament, but as a semi-biased fan of college basketball, I don't think they deserved a spot. I sincerely hope they prove me wrong. The problem was that there wasn't a whole lot of distinction between Bradley, Creighton, and Missouri State, but the committee had to pick at least one and I don't think there was room for a second from that trio. And that, folks, is why the people on the Selection Committee are much braver than I.
Random thoughts and observations:
I hope the Elite Eight this year is at least close to as exciting as last year's. And I really hope I see just one game as good as the Wake Forest-West Virginia second round game of last year.
I'd like to thank whoever schedules the games during the tournament. The way they stagger them so that fans get a chance to see the end of almost every game is great. Equally as great is the way they leave a nice little gap from about 4:30pm to 6pm central time so that I can eat dinner away from the television. I would have no problem staying on the couch for 10 hours straight and taking my meals there, but it's nice to get a chance to stretch my legs apart from trips to the bathroom which tend to be rather hurried. Again, I have no classes and no life to interrupt my tourney watching.
The sign of how big a fan of college basketball someone is, is how much of the NIT they watch. The games are more spread out, but there's one nearly every night, starting the day after the NCAA tournament is selected. The games are often just as good, albeit with a little less talent on the floor.
If you enter any kind of bracket pool (or not) then you need to read this.
In closing: here's hoping for a tournament with much excitement and a Duke loss as early as possible. Of course, I wouldn't be averse to a nice, long run by Illinois, either.