The month of March brings a few things to mind - St. Patrick’s Day, spring break, and of course, March Madness. With every game being do or die, you won’t want to miss a second of the action. So whether you are trying to show up your friends or just learning about the NCAA Tournament for the first time, take a peek at this guide to “The Big Dance” before you fill in your brackets.
Cal Golden Bears
Most thought that the talent on the Golden Bears this year would have blown away the rest of the conference but they just can’t seem to find their rhythm. On more than one occasion Cal has blown a substantial lead and lost due to their lack of defensive unity. They have all the ingredients needed to run away with the title, it’s just a matter of whether they can find their timing.
Arizona State Sun Devils
ASU isn’t living up to the hype that surrounded it pre-season. They have a well seasoned team but just can’t seem to pick up any wins that matter. Even without James Harden, the Sun Devils were expected to be threatening but if they want to compete for that top spot, Ty Abott better keep on his hot shooting streak, and he better find some help - and fast.
After a disastrous start to the season, the Bruins have staged a pretty nice comeback and are now clawing their way back to the top. Even though they lost a lot of starters this year, UCLA’s program is so stellar they were expected to remain on top of their game. Trouble was it took the Bruins most of the season to find their grove. It’s not going to be easy but if they end up peaking at the most opportune of times there will be a lot of sports writers eating their words.
Considering the first basketball coach at Kansas was the originator of the game, I guess it should be no surprise that they have dominated the Big-12 and been among the elite teams over the last few decades. This year should be no different with all 5 starters returning including superstars Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins. As if there wasn’t enough depth already, their freshman class showcases some top recruits including the hyped up Xavier Henry - who has most definitely lived up to his expectations. I won’t be surprised at all if the Jayhawks take home the Championship, or at the very least shoot their way to the Final Four.
Kansas State Wildcats
Since Kansas and Texas are almost always number 1 and 2 in the Big-12, the 3 spot is where the competition lies. That prize looks as if it will go to the Wildcats this year and rightfully so. This team includes a lot of young talent, but if anyone can handle rookies it’s coach Frank Martin who in his first year (‘07-08) at Kansas State coached a team that included 9 freshman to their first appearance in the big dance in 12 years. In the same year Kansas defeated their rival team KU for the first time in 30 meetings. Guards Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen have been on a roll this season and have carried the team, handing Texas their first upset of the season after starting 16-0. Last year wasn’t so pretty but this year the Wildcats are looking forward to playing well into March.
Michigan State Spartans
When people think of Michigan State, they often think of the infamous 1979 NCAA National Championship game nicknamed Magic vs Bird. Magic Johnson and the Spartans ended up taking the title from the undefeated Indiana State Sycamores led by Larry Bird. Little did anyone know back then, that these would become household names that would be remembered for generations to come. The Spartans haven’t let down that legacy, competing in the big dance for the last 12 years and just falling short of the title in 2009. Team leader and scorer Kalin Lucas looks to lead the Spartans back to the bitter end once again and with the rebound skills they possess, it’s definitely a possibility.
Ohio State Buckeyes
There was a lot of panic in Madison when superstar Evan Turner had a freak back injury and was projected to be out for 8 weeks. Instead, he was back on the court in 4 - returning just in time to steal the thunder from Robbie Hummel and beat Purdue. With a team comprised of sophomores and juniors, the Buckeyes possess the experience necessary to challenge in the Big Ten. If any one team is fired up to go far in the big dance its Ohio State - in case you forgot, they were the team that lost to Cinderella story Siena last year.
The “winningest team in college basketball history” wasn’t so winning last year, failing to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years. With a new coach (John Capilari) and an insane recruiting class, Kentucky is back atop the SEC where it belongs. There was some doubt as to whether the Wildcats would have the shooting power they needed this year, but freshman John Wall has risen to the challenge and
is proving the skeptics wrong. With three freshmen starting this year, it’s unfathomable to think of what this team will accomplish in the coming years, but for the present “Cal’s Kids” have their eyes on at least the final four.
With only one of last year’s starters gone and the replacement a better shooter than before, the Commodores are expecting nothing less than a NCAA Tournament bid. They have depth, experience, and no weaknesses. The SEC is no picnic, but they’ll get 5 or 6 bids and Vanderbilt will be one of them.
Duke Blue Devils
With the fall from grace of last year’s NCAA champions UNC, Duke stands alone atop the ACC this year - even with the absence of experience in the point guard department. Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith have more than made up for it and will no doubt lead the Blue Devils well into March. Add the stellar shooting ability of sophomore Kyle Singler in the front court and you have a group of starters that will be near impossible to take down. The ACC may be weaker this year, but Duke is not so look out.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
All the pieces are falling into place for the Yellow Jackets this year. A great recruitment class, plus a few experienced starters from last year, equals a recipe for success - especially after such a disastrous 2008-09 season. Is it possible for a team to go from no post season appearance whatsoever to the elite eight? I guess we’ll have to sit back and find out. Wins over Duke, Clemson, and UNC prove that they have what it takes to make in the NCAA Tournament, question is just how far. Freshman recruit Derrick Favors and Junior Gani Lawal have dominated in the paint this year and as long as GT can clean up their free throws, they will be a team to be reckoned with.
This year the amount of talented teams in the Big East is astounding. It may be one of the most difficult and talented conferences that we have ever seen in the history of college ball. Any given week this season, 5-7 of the top 25 ranked teams in the country have been Big East teams. That being said, Villanova will probably stand at the top of the conference list come the end of the season. Although they did lose some key starters this year, they acquired one of the best recruitment classes of ‘09. Another secret weapon: Scottie Reynolds. He’s one of the sickest, yet most accurate 3 point shooters you’ll ever see. The biggest fight for the Wildcats this season will most likely be off the court - for playing time that is. Making it to the Final Four last year was great, but Villanova’s got loftier goals in mind this year.
With so much talent leaving this year, a lot of people thought that the ‘Cuse would have a hard time even getting into the NCAA Tournament. They sure are proving us wrong. Starting the season 12-0 was not in any sports forecasters’ crystal ball for Syracuse, but they managed to accomplish it. Wesley Johnson, a transfer from Iowa State, has proven to be a huge asset and leads the team in Pts. per game. It’s not going to be easy like is usually is, but the Orange is in line to make it to the big dance once again this year.
The Hoyas have a lot to prove after failing to make it into March Madness last year, but if anyone likes to surprise people its coach John Thompson. His unconventional techniques and thought process always have people wondering what he’s going to do next and with the now seasoned team leadership of Greg Monroe, anything is possible. Who knows, they might even overtake UConn this year. I don’t think we should expect to see the Hoyas go the distance, but they will definitely win a couple games come March.
Just when everyone had written off the Huskies, they went and beat then #1 ranked Texas to claw their way back into contention. With an emotional season involving Jim Calhoun’s health scare, these boys are pumped to win for their beloved coach and are using that added motivation to inch their way back into the rankings. The Huskies’ backcourt in unparalleled and includes the likes of superstar Jerome Dyson who has averaged around 19.5 pts per game this year. I don’t see a conference title in UConn’s near future, but they will definitely hold their own come March.
Brigham Young Cougars
There is only one name to remember on the cougars this year and that is Jimmer Freddette. He has far exceeded anyone’s expectations, breaking the school record on Dec 28th with a 49 pt game. Freddette could take on the Mountain West Conference by himself, so BYU will easily nab that prize, it’s just the NCAA Tourney that could be a bit tricky. They’ve made it the last 3 years but never past the first round. Something tells me that this year will be different, but don’t get your hopes too high - Jimmer can’t play 40 minutes a game.
This is an entirely different team from top to bottom then it was a year ago. The only returning starter is guard Matt Bouldin and he has done a fantastic job of leading the youngsters, including surprise freshman superstar Ellias Harris. Where this team excels is in FG accuracy. With the ability to rack up those 3 pt shots, the Bulldogs will threaten even the best ranked teams. Sometimes change is good, and Gonzaga hopes to prove that theory and better on their sweet sixteen appearance of last season.
Things didn’t look great for Temple coming into this season but coach Fran Dunphy seems to have filled in the holes left by last year’s departures. Many didn’t expect to see them make it to the NCAA Tournament, but there are no quitters in Philly. A lot of pressure was on guard Ryan Brooks to step up to the plate and he has delivered, averaging over 16 pts a game. Add to the mix the frontcourt talent of Lavoy Allen, who came out of nowhere last season and has only improved since, and you have the makings of a third straight A-10 title.
Northern Iowa Panthers
Whoever says size doesn’t matter is lying. Measuring in at 6’9” and 7’1”, Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder dominate in the paint and with size like that, opponents are going to be scared to try and steal the ball. This dynamic duo leads the team in pts, and will carry the Panthers straight to another conference title. Who knows, they might even win a couple games in the NCAA tournament.
As usual, Butler will barely break a sweat while taking top honors in the Horizon Conference. Problem is, in such a low caliber conference they wind up being seeded too low in the NCAA Tournament. This was the case last year, and the result was getting knocked out against LSU in the first round. They do have a stronger, more well seasoned team then last year with 9 players returning whom all saw a lot of playing time last year. The hardest part will be making it through the first round, but if they do that they’ll be in fighting shape to take on whatever challenge comes next.
By Kiowa Bryan