[and I meant to add this orginally but check out the creatively named Chris' Sports Blog for plenty of NCAA Tourney goodness]
Anyway, on to my thoughts on the bracket with my picks to be released on Thursday...
- Everyone is picking Florida to win it all, which as I have argued is more than fair. Not since Wooden's era has a team brought back all five starters from a championship team, and only UNC and Kansas can rival Florida's talent. And while I think Florida is a lock for the Final Four, I do not think they will win it all this year. Since Kansas beat Florida in overtime (at a neutral site) back in November I have been leaning towards Kansas to win the championship and I'm still leaning that way right now. My advice for filling out your bracket is to pick a Final Four and work backwards. For example, before the brackets were announced my Final Four was Florida, Kansas, Texas and Oregon. I'm feeling less confident about Texas and obviously Oregon and Florida both can not make the Final Four, so I have no idea who my current Final Four would be.
- I'm a shameless SEC apologist so I will make an argument for Arkansas. The Hogs have a great neutral site record (6-2) beating Southern Illionois, West Virginia and Vandy and losing to Texas Tech. In addition Arkansas lost at Texas, so nobody can say Arkansas did not have a difficult non-conference schedule (like say Syracuse). In addition, the SEC is the second best conference by RPI (behind only the ACC).
- I hate that Stanford is one of the last four teams in. Their non-conference schedule is less than impressive (Texas Tech, Virginia and Air Force, and they got killed by Air Force 45-79), and they lost in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament. The best thing Stanford had going for them is they finished 6th in the PAC-10 with a 10-8 record. If the Comittee was simply looking at conference records then Kansas State (10-6), which finished fourth in the Big 12, deserved to get in ahead of Stanford. But then again, I watched very few middle of the pack games involving either the PAC 10 or Big 12 so I don't have a good feel for either team.
- One team which I do have a good feel for is FSU which for the second straight year is one of the last four teams out. FSU is a great case study of what the Selection Committee takes into account when handing out at-large bids.. FSU has the best player in the ACC (Thornton) and played a great non-conference schedule (Florida, Wisconsin, Pitt). But the Noles went a pitiful 7-9 in conference, and no matter how deep the ACC is this year the Selection Committee was not going to let in a team with a losing record in conference. FSU has the ability to beat any team it plays (they did beat Florida) but the Noles are horribly inconsistent. If FSU could have picked up one more win February (when they went 2-5) they probably would have been playing in the tournament.
- Prepare yourself for plenty of Jim Boeheim whining over the next 24 hours. And I might actually feel some pity for Boeheim if his team has left New York more than once before New Years Day this season. Syracuse played three decent teams out of conference (Wichita St, Oklahoma St, and Drexel) and lost to all three teams. Additionally, Syracuse didn't have many impressive Big East wins despite going 10-8 in the conference. The Orange beat Marquette and Villanova early in the season and defeated Georgetown in a classic let down game for the Hoyas (Georgetown had just defeated Pitt).
- The mid-majors got hosed and not because Drexel didn't get in. I don't have any problem with the number of mid-majors which earned at large berths. You could make an argument in favor of Drexel based on their out of conference record (beat Syracuse, Villanova, Creighton) but any team which losses to my alma mater, William and Mary, should not earn an at-large bid. Maybe someday when William and Mary sells it soul and spends the money to field a decent team (and with the current president that may happen) losing to William and Mary will not be a black mark on a team's resume. Instead, it appears the Selection Committee hates mid majors because eight mids are matched up against each other in the first round of the tournament. The Nevada-Creighton and Old Dominion-Butler matchups are especially disheartening. There is no way that mid majors will be as big of a story this year as they were last year (although that was bound to happen before the brackets were announced anyway).
- I think we're going to see a return to chalk this year, with runs by middle of the pack conference teams like Maryland, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech. This isn't exactly going out on a limb but I think at least three of these teams will defeat either a #1 or #2 seed.
- I really like VCU to make it to the Sweet Sixteen for several reasons; 1) they are coached by former Florida assistant Anthony Grant, 2) they won an underrated CAA (also know as George Mason's conference) and, 3) they are from Virginia. VCU pulls weak Duke and Pitt teams in the first two rounds.
- Just something worth pointing out, there are a lot of freshman point guards on teams which are getting a lot of pub. Ohio State, Texas, UNC and Maryland all start freshman at the point guard position and while all of these rookies are talented, it remains to be seen how they dish the ball when the pressure is on.