2009 NCAA Tournament Picks
Yes, the NCAA tourney is here again, and it’s time to start filling out those brackets. While I’ve largely gone silent this year for reasons due mostly to my own laziness, tourney time is no time to stay lazy. So I’m again posting my tournament picks for the world to see. Those of you who've in any way relied on me in the last few years are readily aware that I'm no expert. Despite my general failings in the ways of bracketology, though, I'm still willing to offer my opinion to friends of mine that watch little to no basketball. I may be wrong, but I try to a least have an amusing reason for picking the way that I did.
Before I get to the picks, though, a restatement of my general rules for filling out NCAA tourney brackets:
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” Dayton knocking off Wext Virginia, or telling him that some guy whose picks you followed got it right that Wester Kentucky beat Illinois. 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. This is particularly tempting this year, since the top teams are more flawed than usual, but resist the urge. 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, even though someone inevitably mocks may lack of creativity every year.
3) Have fun and 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 Akron to win a game because your favorite uncle lives in Akron, or pick against Syracuse because you dated a girl who went there and was totally wrong for you. After all, last year wasn’t your pool won by that guy in your office who just picked teams based on the ferocity of their mascot? See, you need some quirks, too.
On to the picks. As always, winners are in bold.
Louisville (1) vs. Play-In Winner (16): Each year, rather than actually talk about this game, I like to use the space to note how much I hate the play-in game. Tomorrow night, a low-level conference champion will lose their final game of the year, and won’t get the chance to fly to a regional site and play in the real tournament. Sure, the school will get a banner for its gym to denote an NCAA tournament appearance, but everyone will know that they only played in the tournament in the most technical sense. It’s a bit tougher for me to hate this game this year, since it may have been the reason that Wisconsin got into the tournament. If the NCAA needs to screw over Morehead State or Alabama State for the Badgers to get into the tourney, though, I’d frankly rather see an NIT game at the Kohl Center.
Ohio State (8) vs. Siena (9): While they’ve been playing better ball over the course of the last month, I’m just not buying Ohio State this year. If you’re going to tell me that it’s unfair for me to hold a low opinion of a team that eliminated my favorite squad from its conference tournament and then went on to nearly win the conference tournament itself, I won’t disagree with you. But that doesn’t change the fact that I'm just not feeling the Buckeyes (maybe it was all the overblown BJ Mullens hype?). So Siena it is.
Utah (5) vs. Arizona (12): Arizona shouldn’t be in the tournament, but they’re going to win this one just to tick people off. Heaven knows they have the talent to do so if they feel like it.
Wake Forest (4) vs. Cleveland State (13): Wake Forest is a team that was ranked #1 for a brief time earlier this year. Cleveland State is a team that lost to a relatively average UWM squad earlier this year. I’ll take the former #1 here.
West Virginia (6) vs. Dayton (11): A Dayton alum was instrumental in getting me tickets to one of the regional finals this year, and I really hate Bob Huggins, so there was really no other way to go here. Even if my brain does tell me that Bob Huggins teams don't lose early tournament games.
Kansas (3) vs. North Dakota State (14): I would never pick a 14 seed over a 3 seed. There’s just too much to lose. But if ever there was a time to think about it, it would be here. Kansas has lost two out of its last three games to teams near the bottom of the Big 12 standings, and North Dakota State has spent the last few years sneaking up on power conference teams (and has a head coach that just last week I advocated as a potential future head coach of Wisconsin). I’m not a bold enough man to make the call, but I wouldn’t blame you if you did.
Boston College (7) vs. USC (10): USC’s a hot pick here due to the Trojans’ strong finish to the regular season. But BC is one of those teams that I never know much about and always ends up putting together a solid year in the ACC. So I'm picking BC here, and making a promise to actually pay attention to them next year.
Connecticut (1) vs. Chattanooga (16): No team whose nickname is “The Mocs” is winning a game in the NCAA tournament.
BYU (8) vs. Texas A&M (9): Two years ago A&M was my “team of destiny” and they let me down after I picked them to win the NCAA championship. I’m still let down by that, and seeing as I know nothing about either team, BYU looks fine to me.
Purdue (5) vs. Northern Iowa (12): You have to respect a team when its best player spends the season playing through a fractured back. The Boilermakers build on their Big Ten Tournament championship and notch a first round win here as Robbie Hummel continues to feel better. Hopefully Northern Iowa hangs around in this one long enough to get Green Bay native and Panther star forward Adam Koch some good publicity.
Washington (4) vs. Mississippi State (13): If Washington hadn’t lost to Arizona State in the Pac-10 tournament, the Huskies may have been looking at a 2-seed. If Tennessee hadn’t played an inept second half against Mississippi State in the SEC championship game, the Bulldogs wouldn’t be here. I think you see my reasoning here.
Marquette (6) vs. Utah State (11): This will be a popular upset pick because Utah State, with 30 wins, was going to be a popular upset pick against anyone heading into the tournament. The fact that Marquette has dropped five of its last six feeds further into Utah State’s upset-darling status. But don’t buy into the hype. The Golden Eagles were a special team before Dominic James went down, and I would only downgrade them to excellent now. Their collapse down the stretch was more a by-product of playing five of the best teams in the country than anything else. Marquette will make some noise in this tournament.
Missouri (3) vs. Cornell (14): Is this a joke? Is the Ivy League really being represented by a team other than Princeton or Penn? If so, I have to go with Mizzou.
California (7) vs. Maryland (10): A cousin of mine went to Maryland, and one of my best friends from high school went to grad school at Cal. I've seen my cousin more recently, so I'll give the Terps the nod. The winner's just going to get pummeled by Memphis, so I'm not stressing too much on this one.
Memphis (2) vs. Cal State Northridge (15): Being from Conference USA, Memphis is used to beating up on inferior teams, so the Tigers should feel right at home in this contest.
Pittsburgh (1) vs. East Tennessee State (16): Do you think that the NCAA just set this game up because of the fierce regional interest that a potential East Tennessee State vs. Tennessee second round matchup would draw? No, me neither.
Oklahoma State (8) vs. Tennessee (9): Bruce Pearl coached teams are remarkable in their ability to beat anyone if they're playing well, or lose to just about anyone when they're not hitting their shots. There's been a whole lot more of the latter type of play this season. If you watched the Vols in the SEC championship game, you know why I can't pick them here.
Florida State (5) vs. Wisconsin (12): I want to pick the Badgers, but this just feels like one of those times when I find myself wringing my hands over the fact that the ACC-Big Ten challenge isn’t going my way (that would be every year, for the record). A Badger win isn’t out of the question, but ultimately, I’m just happy to be in the tourney.
Xavier (4) vs. Portland State (13): I’m going with Xavier here, simply because I’m mildly annoyed at how it seems to have become the trendy thing for people in their mid to late 20s to move to Portland.
UCLA (6) vs. VCU (11): UCLA finished second in a conference that received six tournament bids. That's good enough for me.
Villanova (3) vs. American (14): Back when I was a young lad applying to colleges, I chose the schools that I applied to largely on the basis of whether I would be able to watch good basketball. I also applied to American because they had an interesting looking major focused on government. At the time, I didn’t even know they had a basketball team.
Texas (7) vs. Minnesota (10): Tubby Smith will wait to totally break through until next year, particularly since he’s got a tough Texas team standing in his way right now.
Duke (2) vs. Binghamton (15): Duke will win this one, but the real issue for me is what t-shirt I’ll wear while watching the game. One of my best friends has ties to Duke. My grandparents are Binghamton natives (in fact, I spent this past Christmas with them in Binghamton). Consequently, Duke and Binghamton apparel occupies more space in my dresser than that of any other school school (aside from Wisconsin, of course). I’m thinking that I’ll probably wear my grey Binghamton ringer t-shirt just to be contrarian (and because it’s probably the coolest t-shirt I own). Great as the shirt is, though, it will be tough to root for the Bearcats after reading the scathing New York Times article about the Binghamton program.
North Carolina (1) vs. Radford (16): Even if Ty Lawson had turf toe on his right hand, the Tar Heels would still win this one.
LSU (8) vs. Butler (9): Butler is nothing but freshmen, and will be truly scary in two years. Particularly once they have a chance to break down what went wrong in this game.
Illinois (5) vs. Western Kentucky (12): When this game was announced during the selection show, I immediately knew I was picking Western Kentucky. Western Kentucky is one of those mid-majors that’s good year in and year out. Last week I told a friend that based on games that I had seen, I felt like Penn State was a better team than Illinois. And that was before the Illini lost Chester Frazier, the heart and soul of the team, to a broken hand. I implore you–take the Hilltoppers here. You won’t be sorry. I've seldom felt so adamant about an upset.
Gonzaga (4) vs. Akron (13): I’m not in love with Gonzaga this year, but it’s tough to imagine them being conquered by a team known as the “Zips.”
Arizona State (6) vs. Temple (11): Hey N.C. State? How’d that running Herb Sendek out of town thing go? That’s what I thought.
Syracuse (3) vs. Stephen F. Austin (14): Here’s a prediction–Syracuse will need less than six overtimes to dispose of Stephen F. Austin. I’m hoping that Stephen F. Austin is actually a school, and not just one dude who conned his way into the tournament.
Clemson (7) vs. Michigan (10): This one’s tricky. I feel like Clemson’s better than a 7-seed. At the same time, Michigan is one of those teams that runs hot and cold, and can put up a fight with anyone if things are falling right (they do have early season wins against UCLA and Duke, after all). Seeing as I’ve seen more of the bad Michigan than the good Michigan this year, I’m giving the edge to the relatively more consistent Clemson Tigers. (...and Clemson fans begin shaking their head in confusion at how little I understand their team).
Oklahoma (2) vs. Morgan State (15): Blake Griffin’s rebound total my surpass Morgan State’s leading scorer’s point total in this game. Why do I feel like I may actually have the chance to make that choice in ESPN's Streak For the Cash?
Louisville (1) vs. Siena (9): Here's the thing about Louisville--just based on what my eyes have seen, I'm not blown away by Louisville. In fact, I think there are plenty of teams just as good, if not better than, the Cards. But the fact is, no matter what they look like, they just keep winning. So I guess they'll do that again here.
Wake Forest (4) vs. Arizona (12): Arizona’s talent will return to being disinterested after they win a game and feel like they’ve proved they belonged in the tournament.
Dayton (11) vs. Kansas (3): Dayton, worn down from taking forearm shivers from Bob Huggins’ roster of toughs in the first round, falls to a team of guys eager to play deep into the tournament after sitting on the bench last year when their teammates won a national championship.
Boston College (7) vs. Michigan State (2): I’m somewhat of an oddball Wisconsin fan in that I have tremendous respect for Tom Izzo and the way that his teams play. That said, I feel like the only reason that Michigan State racked up so many wins this year was that virtually every other team in the Big Ten was solid, but unspectacular (I've told friends repeatedly that I felt like almost every team in the Big Ten should have been ranked 24th in the country this year). BC pulls the upset here, and Michigan State makes a big run next year.
Connecticut (1) vs. BYU (8): While Syracuse was heading back to onto the court on Friday and Saturday night, Connecticut was relaxing, healing, and getting ready to make a run in the real tournament. The Huskies advance easily.
Purdue (5) vs. Washington (4): Washington’s under-ranked, and Purdue’s the second-best team in a conference that was severely overrated by the media this year. The Huskies advance.
Marquette (6) vs. Missouri (3): Overlooked while Marquette was losing games at the end of the season was the fact that they were staying close with top-10 teams using two guys that hadn’t logged big minutes until Dominic James went down. Now that the rotation has had time to mesh, what would have been a near miss just weeks ago will be a win.
Maryland (10) vs. Memphis (2): It’s easy to pick on Memphis because they don’t play anyone of consequence in Conference USA. But they don’t let you down in the tourney.
Pittsburgh (1) vs. Oklahoma State (8): Pitt’s the best team that I’ve seen this year, so I’m not picking them to lose this early.
Florida State (5) vs. Xavier (4): Consider this pick an example of me openly disrespecting the Atlantic 10.
UCLA (6) vs. Villanova (3): It’s easy to forget about Villanova in the Big East with Louisville, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh hanging around. Factor in the disproportionate coverage of Notre Dame and Georgetown, and then sprinkle in Syracuse winning a six overtime game, and virtually no one's thinking about the Wildcats. If they were in any other conference, you'd know a lot about the Wildcats, though. And by the end of the tournament, odds are that they'll have made you pay attention to them.
Duke (2) vs. Texas (7): Seeing as I wore a Binghamton t-shirt during the first round, Duke’s going to need to give me a few more opportunities to wear my Blue Devil apparel.
North Carolina (1) vs. LSU (8): At the start of the season, I thought the ‘Heels had the best chance of going undefeated of any team I’d ever seen. That proved not to be true, but them not seeing the Sweet 16 would still be shocking.
Western Kentucky (12) vs. Gonzaga (4): Western Kentucky would actually be a nice sleeper pick to be that one low-seeded team that makes it to the Sweet 16, but as you know, I'm notoriously boring in my picks. The risk-reward factor of picking a 12-seed to the Sweet 16 is just too great. No, I obviously don't love Gonzaga this year. Historically, though, the Bulldogs typically do the opposite of what I expect in the NCAA tournement, so you should probably pick them through to the Final Four.
Arizona State (6) vs. Syracuse (3): It’s tough to pick against Syracuse when you see how good the Orange can be (as the world did in the Big East tournament). But ultimately playing the equivalent of five games in four days this past week catches up with them as they take on an ASU team with a solid coach (Sendek) and a legit star (James Harden).
Clemson (7) vs. Oklahoma (2): Two of Oklahoma’s five losses came when Blake Griffin was concussed. Clemson’s a scary 7-seed and a nice sleeper pick, but I still think they’re going home unless Terrence Oglesby hits Griffin over the head with a folding chair.
Louisville (1) vs. Wake Forest (4): Like I said, I wish I was more wowed by Louisville. Wake Forest does have that "wow" factor when you see them play, even if they've been iffy down the stretch. Picking against the team that just seems to win all the time is typically a bad idea, but I just can't help myself here.
Kansas (3) vs. Boston College (7): I’m picking Kansas, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about picking a team that I’m not sure can win either of its first two games.
Connecticut (1) vs. Washington (4): Jon Brockman puts up shockingly good numbers (at least to those who've never seen the Huskies) against Hasheem Thabeet, but Connecticut’s guards pull out the victory. I’m hoping that a stipulation will be added that the loser of this game has to give up its claim to the “Huskies” nickname.
Marquette (6) vs. Memphis (2): I've picked Marquette through to this point because I feel like they're unfairly looked down upon right now because of their inability to win at the end of the season when they faced nothing but elite level teams. And while I think that Marquette can beat most good teams, it is true that they haven't been able to take down any of the elite level teams that they've faced recently. And guess what? Memphis is and elite level team.
Pittsburgh (1) vs. Florida State (5): I’m iffy on Florida State winning its second game, and I think Pitt’s the best team in the tournament. Easy call here.
Villanova (3) vs. Duke (2): I honestly have a tough time deciding this one. Both are among my favorite teams in the field. I can't get a good read on Duke, though, since every time I watch them play they seem to have a new point guard. And have we decided yet whether Brian Zoubek is a solid contributor or a guy to make fun of? It seems to change every game. So I'm going with a Villanova team that I trust more. But this will be one of the best games of the tournament.
North Carolina (1) vs. Gonzaga (4): North Carolina absolutely pummels the Bulldogs, proving that while Gonzaga had a nice draw that got them to the Sweet Sixteen, they don’t belong on the same court with the elite teams this year.
Arizona State (6) vs. Oklahoma (2): The Sun Devils had a nice run, but destiny dictates that the next round must feature a Tyler Hansbrough-Blake Griffin showdown. If this was the NBA, the refs would dictate it, too.
Wake Forest (4) vs. Kansas (3): I’ll pick Wake, just because I’m so iffy on Kansas even making it out of the first two rounds.
Connecticut (1) vs. Memphis (2): Connecticut's experience in the Big East proves useful, as Memphis finds itself unable to draw from any lessons learned during its "big" games against Tulsa and UAB during the conference season.
Pittsburgh (1) vs. Villanova (3): Villanova won the earlier meeting between these two teams during the regular season, and Pittsburgh will be extra motivated to settle the score.
North Carolina (1) vs. Oklahoma (2): As I said in the beginning, North Carolina looked on paper to be the best college basketball team assembled during my lifetime. But they’ve faltered throughout the year, and I simply don't trust them at this point. Factor in questions about Ty Lawson's ailing toe, and it becomes even tougher to count on the Tar Heels to make a great run. Thus, the team that I thought would go undefeated doesn’t even make it to the Final Four, and Jeff Capel gets to put yet another accolade on his surprisingly impressive coaching resume.
Connecticut (1) vs. Wake Forest (4): After finishing off Washington and Memphis in previous rounds, getting Wake Forest in the semi-finals feels like a day off for Connecticut.
Pittsburgh (1) vs. Oklahoma (2): I still think Pitt’s the best team in the country, so why not throw them in the national championship game?
Connecticut vs. Pittsburgh: Last time the two teams met, DeJuan Blair threw his co-Big East Player of the Year opponent Hasheem Thabeet around like a rag doll and the Panthers notched the victory. The toughness and muscle of Pitt once again outdoes the athleticism of Connecticut. And the Big East proves its superiority this year, as two teams who didn’t even win the conference championship battle it out in the national championship.