Thursday, March 25, 2010

Who Makes the Final Four? Take Two

How things change in four days. I only lost one Final Four team, but when you're only in the Sweet 16 that's not something to boast about. The attack of the killer underdogs circa 2006 has returned with a vengeance in 2010, with #12 Cornell, #11 Washington, #10 St. Mary's and #9 Northern Iowa all crashing the Sweet 16 party.

Could we see an Elite 8 that includes all four of these teams? It's possible, though highly improbable. At this point, nobody should doubt that the Big Red from Cornell can play with anybody in the country including Kentucky after demolishing Temple and Wisconsin, not to mention a near-victory early in the season at Kansas. This will be a great game and I'll be rooting for the boys from central New York, but in the end the first-round NBA talent will take over. Jeff Foote's presence will be slightly negated by DeMarcus Cousins and unless Ryan Wittman hits 6 or 7 three-pointers, I think it's Wildcats by single digits.

Washington gets a talented West Virginia squad that just lost its starting point guard and second-best three-point shooter. For a team that struggles to score, especially from the outside, Darryl Bryant's injury could be a death blow to a squad with legitimate title hopes. Washington loves to push the pace and score lots of points, with defense falling by the wayside. If they light up the scoreboard an upset isn't out of the realm of possiblity, but the Mountaineers have too much talent even without Bryant to let that happen, right?

St. Mary's and Baylor might be the best game of this weekend. Omar Samhan is a definite NBA prospect whose stock has soared in the past week, but Baylor's Ekpe Udoh has the goods down low to at least contain Samhan. I like Udoh's supporting cast more than I like Samhan's and I picked Baylor to go to the Final Four from the start so I can't look back now, but this game is a toss-up.

Northern Iowa will beat Michigan St. I said it and it's not that unbelievable, particularly after Kalin Lucas' season-ending injury. The Panthers might as well be favored in this game now and I don't think even Tom Izzo can outcoach momentum and hot shooting from Ali Farokmanesh. The Panthers will be the lowest seed to crash the Elite 8.

As for the other games, I'm boring. I picked a lot of upsets early (and got a bunch right!) but my bracket is still garbage. I originally said upsets early and chalk late and I will stick to that. Ohio St. will ride Evan Turner over Bruce Pearl's well-coached Tennessee squad, Syracuse will take out Butler as long as the Bulldogs don't scorch the nets from long range and Duke will finally land the death blow to Purdue in the battle of "who is more overseeded."

As for Xavier-Kansas St., maybe I'm not so boring. I'm choosing Jordan Crawford and the Musketeers despite the fact that I have been thoroughly impressed by the way the Wildcats have played through two rounds. Jacob Pullen won't go for 30 points again and if it wasn't for this pick, I'd be throwing out all chalk except for Northern Iowa, which might as well be chalk. I doubted K-State against Jimmer Fredette and BYU and you know how the saying goes...burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me.

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