Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pre-Selection Cheat Sheet

Just to get Selection Sunday off to a banging start, here's Fearless Rick's completely unbiased cheat sheet to lead into the 2009-2010 NCAA Tournament.

Best Bets: Count on Kansas getting the #1 overall designation and going in the Midwest region. There are probably only two or three teams capable of beating the Jayhawks on a neutral floor, and even that's in doubt. Those three would be Kentucky, Ohio State and West Virginia. Depending on seedings, it appears that Kansas would only have to face one of these, that being Kentucky, and most likely in the tournament final. Count on Kansas to win five games minimum. The others look good for at least 3 wins, and, in Kentucky's case, 4, 5 or maybe all.

Vulnerable: The most vulnerable of the #1s is Syracuse. The Orange haven't really played well down the stretch and have actually lost two straight coming into the tourney after losing on the road in Louisville and in their first Big East tourney game, to Georgetown. The way to beat the Orange is to outrun them. If they can't set up in their 2-3 zone, they can give up loads of points in transition. They may be the first #1 to go down, possibly as early as the 3rd round.

Purdue is without their second-leading scorer and rebounder, Robbie Hummel. If the beating put on them by Minnesota is any indication, they cannot compete at a high level without him. It's tough, because with Hummel, the Boilermakers were a legitimate contender for the whole shootin' match. Depending on the seeding, the Boilers could go down in the first round. Surviving into the Sweet 16 would be a major feat.

Other likely high-seed teams in the "can be beaten early" camp include Villanova, Tennessee and Gonzaga. Villanova is limited by their size; Tennessee has struggled all season but still can get up and down with the best of them, but lacks solid outside shooting. Gonzaga seemed to be running on fumes late in the season, playing without purpose. They're likely to be over-seeded and overplayed. Expect an early out from them and surprises from St. Mary's who beat them in the WCC final.

The most-plausible 1st-round-out team is Texas. As chronicled throughout the season, the Longhorns have lost their way. They're a likely 8, 9 or 10 seed, meaning they'll have a tough match-up and probably lose.

Finally, every team besides Duke from the ACC can be beaten. The league was not very deep and 1st round upsets could happen to two or more of the five or six who get in.

Sleepers: West Virginia. They may have the X factor in coach Bob Huggins (coaching for the school he played for) and Da'Sean Butler, the ultimate buzzer beater. The ice in his veins is just a little colder than that running though Georgetown's Chris Wright's. Georgetown could make the Final Four or be out in the second round, they're so young (no seniors on the team).

Kansas State could reach the Final Four if there are some upsets ahead of them or they face off with Syracuse or Duke in a regional final. As mentioned above, St. Mary's looks excellent. All of the teams from the Mountain West - there could be four: BYU, Nw Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State - can go deep into the tourney. Two of them making the Sweet 16 would not be much of a surprise.

If Mississippi State gets in, look out. They are a tough bunch and Jarvis Varnado set the NCAA record for career blocks.

Tiny Dancers: Of all the small schools which played into the tournament, two stand out. Old dominion led the nation in defense, with the lowest opponent shooting percentage in the nation. If they play a team with any offensive weakness, they'll shut them down and romp. Cornell waltzed to the Ivy League title without much sweat. Senior-heavy, they led the nation in three-point shooting, but can do it in the lane as well.

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