2008 NCAA Tournament Picks
Well, today’s the day I’m unleashing my NCAA picks on the world. I did so for the first time last year, due to a large number of requests for NCAA assistance from friends of mine who mistakenly thought that I might have some sort of expertise that would help them win their office pools. As the results of last year prove, I’m no expert (and my focus on in-state teams this year has ensured that I haven’t even seen much of this year’s field play, so I’m just as clueless as most of you asking for my help), but I still have enough people fooled that there’s a need to have one place to direct friends asking me for advice. And that place is this post. Before I commence with my picks, a few general notes that I’d like to make about filling out an NCAA bracket:
1) Don’t just completely steal my picks (or anyone else’s, for that matter). I don’t mind it personally, but what fun is that for you? Think of it this way–what’s going to be more fulfilling to you: telling the guy in the cube next to you that you “totally called” Winthrop knocking off Washington State, or telling him that some guy whose picks you followed got it right that Davidson beat Gonzaga. Advice is great when it’s coming from your doctor or your financial advisor, but this is the NCAA tournament–live a little!
2) Don’t go crazy with upsets, particularly in the first two rounds. The NCAA selection committee knows more than you, and they’ve seeded these teams for a reason. Sure, you’re no fun if you don’t go out on a limb here or there, but picking 14 first round upsets isn’t just bold, it’s stupid. Yeah, you’re probably going to have a friend that picks that miracle 10-seed that made it to the Sweet Sixteen, and he’s not going to shut up about it. He’s probably not talking so much about the 5-seed and the 7-seed that he had in the Final Four who both lost the first day, though. My picks are notoriously and painfully boring, and I make no apologies for that.
3) Make some picks for goofy reasons. There are 64 teams in this tournament, and unless your name is Jay Bilas, you probably haven’t seen all of them. So go ahead and pick George Mason to win a game because you had a cool boss at your old job who was an alum, or pick against Butler because of that time you took a trip there and ended up annoyed because you couldn’t find anyplace within 5 square miles of the campus to buy a sandwich. After all, last year wasn’t your pool won by that guy in your office who just picked teams because of the attractiveness of their uniform colors? See, you need some quirks, too.
4) Don’t sweat your lack of knowledge too much. The last time I won a pool was well before I was a basketball-crazed fool, and I knew even less about the teams involved than I know this year. But by some miracle, a hunch about Yinka Dare, and another one about St. John’s led me to crushing victories in every pool I entered that year. So it’s not always about what you know. Sometimes it’s just about getting lucky and latching on to a center who’s completely inept when it comes to passing the ball.
So, after all that, on to the picks. Feel free to openly mock them, because this year's matchups have me less confident about my picks than ever before. Winners are in bold.
North Carolina(1) vs. Marginalized Play-In Winner(16): Okay, we all know that North Carolina's not going to lose here, so let me use this space for another year to state how ridiculous I think the play-in game is. Mount St. Mary's and Coppin State both won their respective conference tournaments and get rewarded by having to play a game on Tuesday night that won't have the atmosphere of the real tournament and that virtually no one will watch. They get the banner, but let’s not kid ourselves–whoever loses this game isn’t in the tournament. But gosh, I’m glad we’re kicking out one of the little guys so that Baylor can get an extra game or two in front of a big crowd.
Indiana(8) vs. Arkansas(9): Indiana’s got two of the most talented stars in the country, but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that the Hoosiers have been awful down the stretch. Plus, this is a great contrarian pick (with little risk in an 8-9 game), since I suspect most people will be anticipating an Indiana-North Carolina showdown of storied programs in the second round.
Notre Dame(5) vs. George Mason(12): George Mason is so 2006, and I'm pretty sure that Jai Lewis never made the NFL.
Washington State(4) vs. Winthrop(13): Winthrop's always in the tourney, and could make a sneaky play here, but it's tough to pick against an experienced and tough Washington State team that played in one of the most challenging conferences around this year.
St. Joseph's(11) vs. Oklahoma(6): I’m not going to lie, about all that I know about either team is that former Duke player Jeff Capel coaches the Sooners. Given my lack of knowledge, and the fact that my cousin Delonte (hey, he could be a distant cousin of some sort) played for St. Joe’s a few years back, I’m taking the upset.
Louisville(3) vs. Boise State(14): Before Louisville became Pitt's first major victim in the Big East Tournament, everyone was talking about how they were playing like one of the best teams in the country. Losing to a white-hot Pitt team doesn't negate that fact.
Butler(7) vs. South Alabama(10): I think Butler’s overrated this year based on the little that I saw of them. And they’re playing South Alabama in Birmingham, so it’s going to be a hostile crowd for the Bulldogs. Yet for some inexplicable reason, I just can’t pick against A.J. Graves and company.
Tennessee(2) vs. American(15): Tennessee's the best of the 2-seeds, and I don't even think it's a question. It's never wise to trust a Bruce Pearl team completely, but I’m willing to do it in this game. American should enjoy its first trip to the tourney, because it's going to be a quick one.
Kansas(1) vs. Portland State(16): My friend Jay used to work at Portland State. He liked it a lot there, but basketball wasn't one of the things he bragged a lot about.
UNLV(8) vs. Kent State(9): Knowing virtually nothing about either team, I'm taking Kent State for two reasons. One, I'm still bitter over UNLV knocking Wisconsin out of the tournament last year. Two, one of my friends who moved away in middle school landed in Ohio and went to Kent State. I feel like Mike would be a fan, and I want to support him.
Clemson(5) vs. Villanova(12): I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Big East show its depth here, but Clemson looked really solid in the ACC tournament. Plus, my cousin went there, so I think I’m morally obligated to pick the Tigers.
Vanderbilt(4) vs. Siena(13): Things I like about Vanderbilt: Shan Foster and the floor in their arena. Okay, there are a lot more than that, but that’s enough to allow me to take them over Siena.
USC(6) vs. Kansas State(11): I’m taking the Trojans out of pure self preservation. I suspect I would get violently ill if I had to watch Brian Butch guard Michael Beasley at any point if K-State were to face Wisconsin in the next round.
Wisconsin(3) vs. Cal State Fullerton(14): Like I said yesterday, if this one’s being played on a baseball diamond, I might pick differently, but given that it’s on the hardwood, I’ll take the Badgers.
Gonzaga(7) vs. Davidson(10): Davidson played close games with both Duke and North Carolina this year, and that’s why most people are picking them here. Me? I simply don’t trust a Gonzaga team that’s got David Pendergraft playing a major role.
Georgetown(2) vs. Maryland-Baltimore County(15): Baltimore and D.C. are pretty close to one another. If you lived in the area, where would you want your son or daughter to go to college?
Memphis(1) vs. UT-Arlington(16): I’m suspect of Memphis nearly every year they roll through Conference USA, but instead of hiding behind their crappy conference and talking about how they can’t control who they play, they put together a killer non-conference schedule this year, and forced people to respect their talent and record.
Mississippi State(8) vs. Oregon(9): Oregon’s looked like a different team every time I’ve seen them this year, so their inconsistency scares me. At the end of the day, though, Mississippi State’s head coach is Rick Stansbury, and Stansbury is where Jessie Spano wanted to go to college on Saved By the Bell. So I’ve got to go with the Bulldogs.
Michigan State(5) vs. Temple(12): I may like it when Wisconsin beats Michigan State, but I still respect the hell out of the Spartans.
Pittsburgh(4) vs. Oral Roberts(13): Pitt’s so hot coming off a Big East Tournament in which they knocked off Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown that not even God himself could stop them, let alone Oral Roberts.
Marquette(6) vs. Kentucky(11): My man-crush on Billy Gillespie outweighs my love for my hometown team, as a Kentucky team that looked dreadful until finally hitting its stride in mid-January keeps rolling.
Stanford(3) vs. Cornell(14): Cornell’s Ivy League foe Harvard has started letting Tommy Amaker recruit less-qualified students to his team, and Amaker cites Stanford as a school that’s a model of the way to have both athletic and academic excellence. Translation: Stanford would crush a current Ivy League team.
Miami (FL)(7) vs. St. Mary's(10): Miami beat Duke earlier this year, but St. Mary’s beat ESPN’s late-night west coast Duke-equivalent, Gonzaga. Not sure which way to go, but let’s take the little guy since I’ve always been annoyed by Miami football.
Texas(2) vs. Austin Peay(15): The school from Austin, Texas is playing a school named Austin. I think the committee was just having fun with this one, sort of like when I was in college and the housing department just “randomly” paired up two guys named Jesus and Moses as dorm roommates on the floor above me.
UCLA(1) vs. Mississippi Valley State(16): Marquette used to play Mississippi Valley State back in the early 1990s and they had some super-prolific scorer. They were still part of Marquette’s cake-walk of a non-conference schedule, and I’m guessing there’s only so much that’s changed about them.
BYU(8) vs. Texas A&M(9): You burned me after I picked you to win it all last year, Texas A&M! I’m picking BYU out of spite.
Drake(5) vs. Western Kentucky(12): I saw Drake take down Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Bracket Buster weekend. They’re legit. It hurts me to take out Western Kentucky here, because they’re always solid, and against any other five-seed they’d be a sneaky upset pick. But this year’s king of mid-majors isn’t going to overlook another mid-major.
Connecticut(4) vs. San Diego(13): UConn’s inconsistency is always maddening, and I remain fascinated by the ESPN piece from November about how San Diego starting forward Rob Jones (who's actually pretty darn good) is the grandson of the infamous Jim Jones. So I wouldn’t blame you if you took the Toreros here, but UConn’s tricked me into thinking that they’re playing well now, so I’m going with them.
Purdue(6) vs. Baylor(11): The Boilermakers beat Wisconsin twice this year, and I have to respect a squad that did that to my favorite team.
Xavier(3) vs. Georgia(14): All the respect in the world for what Georgia battled through in the SEC tournament–that took some serious physical and mental toughness. That said, my lasting impression of the Bulldogs from seeing them in Madison at the beginning of the season was that they’re not a real great team. Xavier is, so they’re moving on.
West Virginia(7) vs. Arizona(10): As with most recent Arizona teams, this one’s all dependent on whether their talent turns it on. Picking them against a Bob Huggins-coached team is a gamble, but hey, even I can't justify picking an entire region with no first round upsets.
Duke(2) vs. Belmont(15): Let’s get this one over early and get some minutes for Greg Zoubek, okay?
North Carolina(1) vs. Arkansas(9): Yeah, like that goofy-looking guy with the beard and the headband is going to be able to hang with Tyler Hansbrough.
Notre Dame(5) vs. Washington State(4): I want to take Tony Bennett and the Cougars, but I know how privileged I felt to watch Marquette beat Notre Dame twice this year. The Irish are a good team, and they're moving on.
St. Joseph's(11) vs. Louisville(3): Team I believe in fully, or team that I picked as an upset because I knew nothing about either them or their first round opponent? Guess I'll take the former.
Butler(7) vs. Tennessee(2): Bruce Pearl used to beat up on Butler when he was with UWM in the Horizon League. Now he's got even better athletes. Need I say more?
Kansas(1) vs. Kent State(9): Did you know that “Jayhawks” isn’t just the moniker of Kansas’ athletic teams, it’s the name of one of my favorite bands?
Clemson(5) vs. Vanderbilt(4): Sure, Vanderbilt beat Tennessee a few weeks ago, but Clemson’s playing better at this moment.
USC(6) vs. Wisconsin(3): My head sort of says USC, but my heart says Wisconsin. If this works out, I see Wisconsin up by 15 in the closing two minutes, and O.J. Mayo ending his college career by punting the basketball in frustration. And I can't just give up on that dream.
Davidson(10) vs. Georgetown(2): Davidson would be a nice Cinderella, but I'm not going down that road. I'll play it safe with the Hoyas.
Memphis(1) vs. Mississippi State(8): Bring back Erick Dampier and maybe I give Mississippi State a chance.
Michigan State(5) vs. Pitt(4): I want to pick Michigan State, but seriously, did you see Pitt in the Big East tournament?
Kentucky(11) vs. Stanford(3): Kentucky's lack of size is frightening against the Lopez twins, but their record has only gotten better as the season has gone on, and I can't ignore how well they've played down the stretch. Here’s my one truly insane upset.
St. Mary's(10) vs. Texas(2): No, I'm not a fan of Texas (though I’m not completely sure why, since they’ve got a stellar backcourt). Yes, they can beat St. Mary's. And when they do, I'll enjoy some Tito's Handmade Vodka from Austin's finest micro-distillery.
UCLA(1) vs. BYU(8): There are a few teams that are head and shoulders above the rest in this country, and UCLA is one of them.
Drake(5) vs. Connecticut(4): Even after the revolution of the past 2-3 years, I still don't trust highly seeded mid-majors like Drake. But I trust Connecticut over the past few years even less. Yeah, the Huskies can be spectacular, but they're also quite capable of crapping the bed.
Purdue(6) vs. Xavier(3): Look, I'm a Wisconsin fan--the Boilermakers handed my team half of their losses this year. I have to give them some respect.
Arizona(10) vs. Duke(2): Two reasons why Duke wins this one. One, they're embarrassed by their first-round exit last year. Two, I think Arizona's players are just looking to play out the year, be finished with Kevin O'Neill, and get Lute Olson back.
North Carolina(1) vs. Notre Dame(5): Notre Dame’s an intriguing upset pick here, since Luke Harangody’s ability to sell opponents’ fouls is a perfect skill to counter Tyler Hansbrough’s unbridled intensity. And I kind of want to pick the Irish here, but UNC’s just too good.
Louisville(3) vs. Tennessee(2): My two favorite teams in the tournament. Were these teams not in the same region, I'd actually probably put them both through to the Final Four (perhaps along with North Carolina, also in the East Region). But since I have to choose, I'll take Tennessee. Louisville's probably a bit hotter right now, but I just have a hunch about the Vols.
Kansas(1) vs. Clemson(5): This pick is not so much an endorsement of Kansas as it is an admission that I could easily see Clemson losing to either Villanova or Vanderbilt before this point.
Wisconsin(3) vs. Georgetown(2): Here's the thing, if I pick Wisconsin here, I'm going to get into that mindset where they're one game away from the Final Four, and I'm telling myself that fate wouldn't let the Badges miss if they're that close. I can't take that kind of heartache, so I'll take the Hoyas, who are pretty darn good, too.
Memphis(1) vs. Pitt(4): Pitt finally starts to get tired from beating everyone, and Memphis continues to silence people who can't stop talking about their positively terrible conference.
Kentucky(11) vs. Texas(2): I just can't take an 11-seed in the Elite Eight. So what the hell, give me Texas.
UCLA(1) vs. Drake(5): UCLA has all-American freshman Kevin Love as their most talked about player. Drake’s most buzz-worthy guy is Adam Emmenecker, a former walk-on guard who’s afraid to shoot 3-pointers. Yep, I’m going with UCLA here.
Purdue(6) vs. Duke(2): I've shown my respect to Purdue, but they're from the Big Ten after all, and I can recognize that the Big Ten just wasn't a great conference this year. I'm not totally sold on Duke, but I think their guards will carry them through here.
North Carolina(1) vs. Tennessee(2): Was it a bad idea when I named Texas A&M as my team of destiny last year and had no good reasons to continue picking them at this point? Yes. Does that mean I'm not going to do the exact same thing with Tennessee again this year? No.
Kansas(1) vs. Georgetown(2): Not crazy about either, but Kansas' ability to disappoint goes back further than its current coach, who has a similar reputation for bowing out too early. I'm crossing my fingers that we don't see another 0 point effort from Roy Hibbert.
Memphis(1) vs. Texas(2): Seriously, this is a 1 vs. 2 seed? Not even a question--I love Memphis here, even if the backcourt matchup is legenday.
UCLA(1) vs. Duke(2): Two great programs, two solid rosters, and two excellent coaches. I could really make the case either way, particularly since these are two of my favorite teams to watch each year. Since my friend Kevin and I were laughing this weekend about how we started out the year talking about Kyle Singler as if he belonged in the same conversation with Kevin Love, I'm going to go with the Bruins.
Tennessee vs. Georgetown: Well, seeing as Georgetown's sort of a default choice that I don't totally have faith in and Tennessee is one of the 5 or so teams that I could see winning it all, I'll take Tennessee.
UCLA vs. Memphis: Could someone hand me a coin, because I need to flip it. No? Okay, I’ll pick Memphis for the all-Tennessee final game, just because that’s fun.
Tennessee vs. Memphis: The Vols won last time, so why pick against them now. Who knew that their earlier 1 vs. 2 matchup would end up being repeated for the national championship?