I wish everyone would stop telling me how badly the NCAA Tournament is going to suck. About how watered down the talent pool is and the lack of star-power hovering over the brackets.
You know why experts are down-playing the parity and glamour in this year’s tournament? It’s because somewhere along the way, they stopped paying attention.
Just so this piece doesn’t seem so agitated, I’m going to get the star-power discussion out of the way now.
DANCING WITH THE STARS
|Melvin Johnson III|
It started yesterday with UTSA’s Devin Gibson and Melvin Johnson III showing off in the play-in game against Alabama State. Of course it was Johnson who took over the first half with 25 points and cemented his own ESPN highlight. Most college basketball fans had no idea who this 165-pound sophomore was before this morning, because they more than likely paid the game no attention on TruTv. But I watched UTSA take down a more talent Sam Houston State squad in the Southland Conference Tournament and Melvin Johnson III was a dude I knew could play a while ago. Kudos to Alabama State for upping his star-power, though.
There’s a set of stars in every division of the bracket. Here we’ll name one from each and let the debate begin on why I named the wrong guy. This will prove my point of the widely overlooked talent that’s lurking.
East – Jared Sullinger Ohio St. Didn’t overlook Harrison Barnes of UNC or Isaih Thomas from Washington, but Sullinger is a 290 pound load who just turned 19 a week ago and is leading the number one overall team in the tournament. That’s star power if I’ve ever seen such.
Southwest – The Morris Bros. Kansas. And there’s two of them. Markieff Morris is the bigger one, while Marcus Morris is probably the better one. But Kansas goes as far as these twin juniors from the east coast take them. The Morris’ are just as entertaining as Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison in 2003 – just saying.
West – Kemba Walker UConn. In my March Madness piece printed in this month’s magazine, I mentioned Nolan Smith was my pick for Player of the Year. He’s been incredible, but I’m singing a different tune these days. With Kemba Walker’s performance in the Big East Tournament, leading the Huskies to a title victory with five wins in five days averaging better than 25 points per contest, he’s easily the biggest performer on this side of the bracket (possibly the biggest star in the tournament). But if Kyrie Irving is even a shell of himself in his anticipated return to the Duke backcourt, I could be singing yet another tune by the end of the week.
Southeast – Jacob Pullen Kansas St. He’s been sick and Pullen’s teammates say his mom is hanging around babying him. This baby has a mean beard and some serious game. While a nice chunk of his season was disappointing, no question that Pullen plays for the big moment. His magnetism reminds me a lot of Mateen Cleaves with Michigan St in 2000 and Kansas St, under Pullen’s leadership, has a good chance of having the same type of fortune this season.
I consider my bracket to be a safe one, but it’s not all chalk. In the East I have Syracuse taking down North Carolina in the Sweet 16. Others might pick North Carolina as a favorite to upset number one seed Ohio St in the Elite Eight. But that’s just if they get that far. 'Cuse won six straight Big East games before losing to UConn (my pick to win it all) in the conference tournament championship game. I think Syracuse better conditioned for big games, playing in college basketball’s strongest league.
I’ve got Louisville beating Kansas for no real good reason, other than my idea that if anyone’s going to beat them, it’ll be one of the Big East teams. That’s the pick I’m ok with being wrong about.
I don’t have any huge upsets in the West but experts like ESPN’s Pat Forde believe Oakland could really knock off Texas. I’ll beg to differ. After seeing the Longhorns run away with a money game against SHSU, I’ve been convinced on their potential ever since. That’s the popular spoiler pick, but I say Texas will beat Oakland by at least 15 points.
Then in the Southeast division I see #10 Michigan St upsetting #2 Florida in the second round, as well as #6 St. John’s over #3 BYU. These are matches up that are much closer than the seedings let on.
With everything mentioned here as well as everything not, there’s plenty of suspense to gravitate towards. So what are these experts talking about, really?
FINAL FOUR AND CHAMPIONSHIP PICKS
AND THE WINNER IS...
*UConn takes down Notre Dame for the national championship in a shootout between two stars – Kemba Walker and Ben Hansborough. Enjoy!
Think you know better than Brandon? Comment with your picks!