Shall We Dance?By Phil Janowicz and Brian Chase
On Tuesday, if a reader had turned to page 18, he would have seen NCAA Tournament Brackets filled out by Sports Editors, Phil Janowicz and Brian Chase. We wanted a chance to justify our Final Four picks before we reach that point in the tournament.
In the St. Louis region, I simply do not see someone stronger than Kentucky in the field. A lot of people say Gonzaga will defeat UK in the regional final (including Phil), but I think Kentucky is better coached. In addition, Gonzaga isn’t the underdog they have been, and they now have to deal with expectations. Kentucky is coming in hungry after having been denied a Final Four berth by Marquette last year.
As many people picked Duke to win the Atlanta region that picked Gonzaga to win the St. Louis region. Following my trend of not picking the absolute favorite, I think Mississippi State will beat them in the regional final. The key to beating Duke is to shut down J.J. Reddick (as well as play excellent basketball), and Miss. St. has the tools to do that. That doesn’t give Miss. St. a huge advantage, but it is certainly possible for it to happen.
In the Phoenix region, there really isn’t any challenge to Stanford that I can see past Connecticut. And I give the advantage to Stanford in that match-up because Stanford plays better team ball and because I think Emeka Okafor of UConn will try too hard in the early rounds and re-injure his back. Even if that doesn’t happen, Stanford doesn’t have the weaknesses of UConn, and they have a knack for winning tight games.
Finally, in the East Rutherford region, I picked Pittsburgh. Really, this is my most uncertain pick because Wisconsin or Oklahoma St. could just as easily win this division. About the only thing sure is that St. Joseph’s won’t go to the Final Four. Among the three teams I mentioned, I saw Pittsburgh as having the best balance of inside and outside scoring and the most mental toughness. That’s the reason why they will survive what is the toughest half-bracket of the entire tournament and will get to the Final Four.
I am no longer alone in my Zags enthusiasm. It’s time for the Bulldogs from Spokane, Washington, to take what is rightfully theirs: a national championship. Coming off a 27-2 season including a perfect run through the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga enters the tournament a number two seed in the St. Louis region with sights on free tickets to San Antonio. The great guard play of Blake Stepp and Kyle Bankhead will keep the Zags running over their opponents and shooting, and their superior coaching will allow them to rise above the proverbial pile in the St. Louis region.
The pairing of this region that upsets me most is the pairing of my two favorite Cinderella teams in the first round with my Zags playing Homer Drew’s Valparaiso team. Most fans remember the amazing last second three-pointer by Bryce Drew, son of coach Homer, to defeat Ole Miss a few years ago. Sure, Valpo’s a lowly number 15, but they have a sentimental place in my basketball heart. It’s just a shame. That’s all.
In Atlanta, it’s all peachy for Duke to breeze past possible opponents of Miss. St. or Xavier. Despite reports to the contrary, this region will be a breeze to Coach K’s Dukies, and the Blue Devils will be dancing in the moonlight in Ted Turnerville.
The Phoenix region contains such powerhouses as Stanford, Connecticut, and ... uh ... University of Texas at El Paso? Yeah, trees in a breeze in the desert.
Now, look out for the East Rutherford region because anyone could emerge as the oil in this water bath. St. Joe’s is the odds-on favorite, but the powerful three-point powerhouse Tigers from Memphis could maul the Hawks. Conference USA’s player of the year Antonio Burks leads an accurate Memphis team that can fire from long range and dish it inside with the rest of them. Coach Cal has done wonders with this program, and it’s time Memphis gets the respect they deserve.
The upsets I see occurring may shock a few and leave others in awe. Maybe some of you haven’t seen Western Michigan play this year, but their excellent play in the game against the College of Charleston proved to me the depth and strength of their team. I see them going to the sweet sixteen. Also, the Jaspers from Manhattan drew the weak Florida Gators and will probably face struggling Demon Deacons of Wake Forest in the second round. Look for the Jaspers to advance until they hit the Jameer Nelson roadblock.
And those are the reasons for our seemingly drastic claims for college basketball supremacy. Hopefully, our picks make more sense now because we’d hate to lose credit for not showing work.