March has come. In less than 24 hours, hundreds of college basketball players will consume the attention of sports fans, decrease productivity in corporate America, and attract individuals who haven’t watched a game all year. March Madness is one of the best times of the year.
Fortunately, I’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the excitement and chaos that only the NCAA tournament brings. (UN-fortunately, my surplus of time comes from being unemployed.) Oh, I can’t forget the entertainment from beloved announcers or the shenanigans of bench players either. They’re each a third of the reason I watch…really.
Although I love March Madness, I’m preparing for one of the ugliest tournaments we’ve seen in some time. Why? Because there are very few, if any, legitimate title contenders. Kansas is obviously one of the favorites. Some will throw in Syracuse or Kentucky too. I’m on board with Kansas and could be talked into Syracuse, but I have zero faith in Kentucky. Zero.
The Wildcats have no big game experience and rely on two freshmen who were buckling under the pressure of the SEC tournament before luck bailed them out. (Yes, John Wall’s desperation three, after nearly air-balling his two previous attempts, was ALL luck.) Freshmen rarely lead teams to titles anyway. Carmelo Anthony did it for Syracuse in 2003, but neither John Wall nor DeMarcus Cousins is on that level. Not yet anyway. Factor in Cousins’ immature temper tantrums, John Calipari’s overrated coaching, and Kentucky’s struggles at the charity stripe; it’s easy to see Kentucky will not advance to the Final Four.
This year’s tournament will also lack west coast panache. The putrid PAC 10 has only two representatives in the 2010 field. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought Title IX eliminated men’s basketball west of the Rockies. I can’t remember the last time UCLA, Arizona, Oregon and Stanford were all left outside the Dance. It makes sense though. If you’re a premiere high school player with NBA aspirations, why not play in the east? The conferences are better, the whole “east coast bias” thing, and the exposure to a national audience is significantly greater. Add to that the opportunity to play your conference tournament in the World’s greatest arena (Madison Square Garden), and it’s understandable why the west coast teams are struggling and the Big East is thriving.
The Big East is the money conference. I’m expecting a minimum of five teams from the conference to advance to the Sweet 16 and maybe even two or three into the Final Four. Call me crazy but the Big East is far and away the nation’s premiere conference. The upheaval at the conference tournament proved the depth and talent in the Big East is unmatched. The conference may not have the big name players like Ohio State or Kentucky, but what they do have is the ability to grind out wins, even when not at their best. The Big East schedule is a war of attrition. The conference’s heavyweights are all battle tested and know what it takes to win. Now it’s only a question of will they?
In conclusion, expect the unexpected from the 2010 tournament. No team is untouchable and two major conferences (PAC 10 and SEC) took major hits in selected teams this year (two and three, respectively). As a result, there are a number of mid-major teams in the tournament that may surprise and even turn the tournament on its head as George Mason did in 2006. Because of this, I fully expect my wife to win this year’s family bracket. (When I asked her to name one college player her response was, “Dick Vitale.”) I guess that’s why they call it March Madness.