March 15, 2011
By Scott Kendall
Note: Due to the increase in the number of teams from last year’s tournament to this year’s, the play-in games are considered the “first four,” while the round of 64 is considered to be the “second round.”
To see the full Update bracket, click here: https://update.midlandps.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/bracket-copy.png
Preamble: It’s finally that time of the year again. March. A month known for ridiculous upsets, heroic individual performances and, well, madness. With no team standing out as the favorite to win the championship, this year’s tournament is wide open for the taking. There’s really no clear-cut favorite. As of now, there are about 20 or so teams that have a legitimate shot at the championship, and that’s not an exaggeration. This is why people love college basketball. For this moment. What buzzer-beaters will this year’s tournament bring? What cinderella team will have the entire country rooting for it? Who will bring home the trophy? Here’s how the Update sees it.
Preview: The east region is packed with big time, powerhouse names including Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky. Ohio State is the clear-cut favorite, being the overall number one seed of the entire tournament, but it won’t be an easy run for the regional championship. Kentucky is a young team playing its best basketball of the season at the right time, and if their inexperience doesn’t plague them, this could be a very scary sweet sixteen matchup for the Buckeyes.
Possible Bracket Buster: Washington. The seventh-seed Huskies are gaining a lot of momentum going into the tournament, including a Pac-10 tournament championship win over a very solid Arizona team. This is a very scary matchup for the Tar Heels in the round of 32, and if they allow Washington the open outside looks that they allowed Duke during the ACC championship game, Isaiah Thomas and Washington could pull this one out, and possibly make a run to the final four.
Our Winner: Ohio State. It’s a popular pick, but for the right reason. In a year where there are no great teams, this one comes awfully close. They have a very balanced offensive attack, with freshman sensation Jared Sullinger leading the way. They play a stingy defense, and rebound excellently. In a tournament impossible to predict, this is our most confident regional champion pick. They’re that good.
Preview: The biggest question surrounding this region is the toe of Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving. Irving hasn’t seen the court in months, but if he can muster up the strength to play again for the Blue Devils before departing to the NBA, Duke’s chances at a championship increase dramatically. The region also hosts a hot Connecticut team that just last week won five games in five days on their way to a Big East tournament championship. Will fatigue be an issue for the Huskies?
Possible Bracket Buster: Oakland. Led by their 6’ 11” NBA-ready big man Keith Benson, this Oakland squad is fire-tested and ready to make a run in this year’s tournament. Their non-conference schedule included games against West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Tennessee and Ohio State. They know what it’s like to play against the top-tier teams, and they’re ready for the challenge. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, the Update sees them losing a close, hard-fought second round game against Texas. Don’t be surprised if they make a run, however.
Our Winner: If Irving’s toe is healthy and he returns to top form, expect the Blue Devils to be cutting down the nets and making their way to the final four. But the Update doesn’t see Irving being able to play, and that will pave the way for the Longhorns of Texas to make their run. Remember, this team was ranked first in the country just a short couple of weeks ago. They’re a two or three seed at worst that got an undeserving four seed, and they’ll be looking to prove just how wrong the committee was. The team, led by Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson prides itself on strength and defense, two keys to making a run in the tournament.
Preview: This region is stacked, plain and simple. With the top four seeds being Kansas, Notre Dame, Purdue and Louisville, this will be far and away the toughest region to get out of. Many people believed Notre Dame deserved a number one seed over Pittsburgh or Duke and the Fighting Irish, behind the stellar play of Ben Hansbrough, will look to continue their regular season momentum and turn it into a long tournament run. With the enormous talent brought by each team, this region is one of the hardest ones to try and predict.
Possible Bracket Buster: Richmond. These twelfth-seeded Spiders are really scary. Led by Justin Harper and his 47 percent three-point percentage, this team has the capability of pulling off a couple of wins and getting out of the first weekend. They’re flying underneath the radar, as many people don’t really know who they are. Our guess is by the end of this weekend, that’ll change.
Our Winner: Kansas. In this stacked region, we had to go with the team that was most capable of bringing their A-game to every single game, and that’s Kansas. Notre Dame and Louisville have struggled with being consistent, and Purdue seems to be going the wrong way heading into the tournament, losers of their past two. Kansas has the Morris twins who are capable of dominating the inside presence, and we see one of them as the regional most valuable player as Kansas cuts down the nets.
Preview: This is, by popular opinion, the weakest of the four regions. It includes the lowest one-seed in Pittsburgh, a two-seed in Florida that left many questioning what the committee was thinking and a three-seed in BYU that, ever since the suspension of Brandon Davies, hasn’t looked like the same team that was a national champion contender by everyone’s standards. The region is Pittsburgh’s to lose, and anybody’s to win. It’s wide open.
Possible Bracket Buster: Belmont. Many forget that back in 2008, this Belmont team almost upset the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils in the first round, as Duke squeezed out a one-point win. This year, they’re matched with a Wisconsin team that seems never capable to win when it counts, and this 30-win Belmont team is primed for an upset. Maybe two.
Our Winner: Pittsburgh. In any other region, Pittsburgh doesn’t make it out of the sweet sixteen, but we just don’t see anybody else in this region capable of taking the Panthers down. Pitsburgh has struggled in the tournament in recent years, but this bracket just sets up too perfectly for the Update to pick anybody else. Solid defense and good guard play will lead the Panthers into Houston.
Michigan State: This season has been nothing short of a failure in the eyes of many Spartans’ fans. Thought by many to be national contenders entering the season, the Spartans have failed to live up to expectations and barely squeaked into the tournament. But the bracket sets up nicely for the Spartans, as they’re in the very weak Southeast region, where any team has the capability of making it to the final four. This team has gone to the past two final fours, and if Izzo is able to really work some incredible magic once again, they could go to a third. We see the Spartans upsetting UCLA and highly overrated Florida, but falling in the sweet sixteen to St. Johns.
Michigan: While Michigan State got a very nice bracket, Michigan got the opposite. They have to play a very underrated Tennessee team loaded with talent that’s capable of making a run similar to last year’s run to the elite eight. But Michigan has talent of their own, with Tim Hardaway Jr. really coming up strong for the young Wolverines in recent games. The Wolverines are capable of hanging with anybody, but we think their youth leads them to a second round, close-game loss to the Volunteers.
Ohio State vs. Texas
In a matchup loaded with young freshmen stars in Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Texas’s Tristan Thompson, it will be interesting to see how Ohio State’s balance offensive attack will fare against the rock-solid defense of Texas. We see the Buckeyes’ perimeter shooting stretching and ability to stretch out the interior defense of the Longhorns the difference in this game. Buckeyes win a close one, 67-61.
Kansas vs. Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s easy run through the tournament will come to a sudden halt against the Jayhawks in Denver. Kansas has the ability to win a fast-paced, high scoring affair or a grind-it-out, defensive battle. We see Kansas’ versatility on both ends being the difference in this one. Pittsburgh just won’t have an answer for the Morris twins, and Kansas will roll to the finals, 75-61.
Ohio State vs Kansas
Flip a coin. That’s how close this matchup is. This game will be a brutal one down low, as the Morris twins will look to shut down Sullinger and his inside presence so they can keep focus on their star guards Jon Diebler and William Buford. Jayhawk point guard Tyshawn Taylor will be the x-factor in this matchup, and we think his athleticism and poise in running the offense is the difference in this one. Kansas wins, cuts down the nets, celebrates and earns their second championship in four years with a 72-67 victory.