Wednesday, March 14, 2012

40 Random NCAA Tournament Thoughts

By Charlie Scaturro

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America
Everyone knows the tournament is here, and as I tried to find a way to make sense of the 68-team field in some kind of a reasonably coherent post, I quickly realized that this would be impossible. The last few days of conference tournament play, bracketology, selection committee’s, “expert” picks, and upset alerts have my head spinning to the point where I feel like everyone’s just shouting at each other and no one can even get a word in edgewise. So I’ve decided that the only way I could preview the tournament here at Send It In Jerome is to start shouting random tournament related thoughts of my own. Here we go…

1. Kentucky has to be at least somewhat unhappy that they will face either UConn or Iowa State in the second round 

The inevitability that a 1-seed will have to play either the 8 or 9 seed in the third round can sometimes be a dicey proposition, and Kentucky can’t be happy that either Iowa State or UConn will be knocking on their door in a couple of days. UConn is the team most people think will win that 8/9 matchup, and while the supreme talent they possess (which they haven’t played up to for the majority of the season) could absolutely do a solid job of rivaling the stars that Kentucky boasts, an Iowa State team with Royce White and a number of other veterans that has notched wins over Kansas and Baylor this season could give the Wildcats an equally tough challenge. The bottom line is that whoever emerges from the UConn-Iowa State scuffle to face Kentucky in the second round is scarier than Kansas State, Southern Miss, Memphis, St. Louis, Creighton, or Alabama (otherwise known as all of the other 8/9 seeds in the tournament).

2. After what happened last year, is it really a good idea to bet against Shaka Smart?

Jamie Skeen and Joey Rodriguez are gone from last year’s Final Four team, but the Rams still have Bradford Burgess, they still play at a tempo that can rattle pretty much any team in the country, they still generate a ton of turnovers, and Shaka Smart is still their coach. I know a lot of people like Wichita State to do some serious damage during the first few rounds of the tournament, but I think it’s a bad idea to bet against a VCU team that is 17-1 in their last 18 games and has one of the brightest up-and-coming coaches in the country.

3. Everyone jumped on the “Belmont is going to upset Wisconsin” bandwagon last season, how did that work out again?

Wisconsin defeated the Bruins 72-58 and made another trip to the Sweet 16 before bowing out to the unstoppable force that is Butler. The reason I bring this up is because it seems that everyone is piling on the Belmont bandwagon again this season, and not putting much faith in Georgetown. I’m not saying Belmont can’t pull off the upset and their experience certainly has to inspire some confidence, but the Hoyas are an extremely talented team whose top three players are very experienced as well. Henry Sims, Jason Clark, and Hollis Thompson helped this team navigate through the Big East and finish with an in-conference record of 12-6, while younger players like Otto Porter (more on him later), Markel Starks, and Greg Whittington contributed as well. Maybe Belmont does pull off the upset they were supposed to notch last season, but I have a hard time picking against Georgetown right now.

4. It’s going to be tough to watch these seniors play their final college basketball games in a few days/weeks:

Tu Holloway

Darius Johnson-Odom (JC transfer)

Kris Joseph

Draymond Green

Kevin Jones

Quincy Acy

William Buford

Jeffrey Taylor

Tyler Zeller

Jordan Taylor

Half the Missouri team

All of these guys have stuck around and provided some much needed continuity to the ever-changing college basketball landscape.  They deserve to go out on a high note.

5. The fact that every analyst is suddenly in love with Florida State worries me

I’ve been beating the Florida State drum pretty much all season, but I’m suddenly worried because people like Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps have them advancing to the Final Four. I love this team’s depth, size, defense, toughness, and ability to win ugly games, but everyone knows that the experts always whiff on a few teams come tourney time, and I’m suddenly not so confident about the Seminoles. I liked this team much better when the only two teams anyone talked about coming out of the ACC were UNC and Duke.

6. It’s basically impossible to believe that Tyler Zeller was a freshman on the UNC team that won the title back in the 08’-09’ season, isn’t it?

That’s the way it feels now when a guy stays the full four seasons. No, he didn’t play much, and a wrist injury he suffered against Kentucky in the second game of his freshman season relegated him to sitting on the bench for close to three months, but Zeller was a part of that team. He ended up playing sparingly in each of the Tar Heels six tournament victories, and with guys like Tyler Hansbrough, Ed Davis, and Deon Thompson playing ahead of him, it’s no wonder that he didn’t see much time. Why am I bringing this up? No reason really, except that even though he’s recognized as a very good player, I still think he’s vastly underrated, and he will have to be at the top of his game is UNC is going to make another deep tournament run.

7. It’s nice to see that Florida didn’t get overseeded, but I still can’t stand them

My disdain for Florida started last season as I watched Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton continually chuck up shots and make bad decisions with the ball, while Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus, and Vernon Macklin were deserving of bigger roles in the Gator’s offense. This season, at least the shooting percentages have gone up and the turnovers have come down a little, but I still can’t trust either of them to lead this team very far in the tournament. A 7-seed seems about right for Florida, but for a while it looked like this guard dominated lineup would have the Gators seeded higher.

8. Indiana’s redemption story is great, but the injury to Verdell Jones III could be a big problem

I think it’s great that Tom Crean has resurrected basketball at Indiana, and that this team is back in the tournament, but in an effort to look forward and not back, the torn ACL that Verdell Jones III suffered changes things. Not only was Jones III the only senior that played significant minutes on this team and one of the foundations that helped rebuild this program, but he was also a solid scoring option and tied for the team lead in assists. Losing a valuable player and leader like Joes III right before tournament time is never a good thing for a team that notched some impressive wins this season, and has the necessary pieces to make a run.

9. Ryan Kelly’s status means a lot for Duke

Truth be told, I’ve never been the biggest Ryan Kelly fan, but when you’ve got a 6’11’ big man who shoots 40 percent from three and is third on your team in scoring, having him suffer an injury a week before the tournament is a big deal. Kelly missed the ACC Tournament due to a sprained foot, and although Coach K has expressed optimism that his junior forward will be back in time for their Friday night opening round game against Lehigh, Kelly has yet to be cleared to practice. Without Kelly, Duke is missing one of their go-to guys on offense, and while Seth Curry and Austin Rivers might be able to step up their games in Kelly’s absence, the 59.5 points per game Duke averaged in his two game absence isn’t an encouraging sign.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America

10. The committee always finds a way to make our bracket choices difficult

UConn and Iowa State seemed like they could make a run…until Kentucky was their 2nd round opponent

I didn’t think much of either Baylor or Duke…until I realized that they are the only thing in each other’s way to the Elite 8 (not exactly but they do share the bottom half of the same bracket as 2 and 3 seeds)

I told myself I was going to pick VCU to win a few games based just on Shaka Smart’s run last season…until they were matched up against a Wichita State team that everyone seems to like so much

Michigan State, Missouri, and Marquette all looked like they had Final Four potential…until the committee put them all in the same region

11. Kyle Wiltjer’s awkward pre-game routine can’t fly under the radar much longer, at least I hope it won’t

If you haven’t seen Kyle Wiltjer looking perplexed, awkward, downright embarrassed, and sporting a “I don’t know what else to do in this situation” smile during the Kentucky pre-game dance-off/pump up/whatever it is college kids are doing these days before games, you’ve missed out. While the rest of his teammates are having a good time before the game, Wiltjer can barely even clap along to the beat with the rest of the guys on Kentucky, in what has become one of my favorite parts of the 2011-12’ college basketball season. I would pay good money for a compilation video of him during every one of Kentucky’s pre-game dance routines this season, and the fact that Kentucky looks poised for a very deep run in this year’s tournament means that we should have plenty of chances to see Wiltjer looking completely uncomfortable before tip off.

12.Vanderbilt will be a source of consternation for me right up until 12:00 on Thursday

Seriously, what do you do with Vanderbilt in your bracket? After looking like a top-10 team before the season tipped off, they underachieved for long stretches of 2011-12’, but after taking down Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, they look like they’ve finally found their stride and they seem to be peaking at the perfect time. Fab Melo’s sudden suspension only makes Vandy an even more popular choice to do some things in the tournament, and many people think this is the year that they finally exercise their first-round demons.

But two things worry me:

A. Their aforementioned first-round demons

B. The fact that this team is unlikely to survive against any team they will face in the tournament without big games from both Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins

Festus Ezeli has looked like his old self in recent weeks, but I just don’t see a team that doesn’t feature much depth being able to overcome an off day from either Jenkins or Taylor. Anyone who has watched this team knows they have the talent to compete with anyone, I just don’t know what to do with these guys.

13. Deniz Kilicli will do something hilarious during the tournament…

Just wait for it…

14. I know Jim Boeheim has the whole “we’re going to use our depth to take us to the Final Four” thing working, but if he doesn’t play Dion Waiters more than the 24 minutes per game he averaged during the regular season, something isn’t right

I’ll get to the whole Fab Melo situation later, but in the meantime, I’m going to talk about a guy who many people think has been the Syracuse's best player this season. With all due respect to Kris Joseph, who is a very good player in his own right, Waiters has routinely stood out as Syracuse’s best and most dangerous weapon during his sophomore season, and he’s done this in just 24 minutes per game. Waiters has taken over on a number of occasions this season, and if you saw what he did against Cincinnati in the Big East Tournament (28 points on 7/10 from behind the arc as he almost single-handedly kept Syracuse in that game), you know that he deserves a bigger role.

15. Picking Missouri just feels right for some reason, but their potential meeting with Michigan State is worrying

There’s a lot to like about Missouri’s veteran roster and explosive offensive attack, and those are two of the biggest reasons I feel like this team can play deep into the tournament. Guys like Kim English and Marcus Denmon are absolutely capable of hitting big shots, and if this team gets hot from the outside, there’s little doubt that they can beat anyone in the country. But even as I sit here and think about all of the reasons I like the Tigers, I have the sneaking suspicion that they simply won’t be able to beat Michigan State. The fact that Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore are the only two guys who can bang under the basket on this roster is far from reassuring, and I can only imagine what Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne will do to Missouri should these teams meet in the Elite Eight.

16. I’m finally sick of talking about how much potential Iona had

I don’t care how good Scott Machado is (and he’s really good), because there’s really no way to defend Iona’s epic collapse against BYU, and after watching that game, it's clear they didn’t deserve to advance. I had reserved this space to talk about how great it was going to be to watch the Gaels take on Marquette, but I guess we shouldn’t have expected too much from a team that lost to Hofstra, Siena, and Fairfield.

17. Hearing “field of 68” and “second round” when it’s really the first round still sounds weird to me

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.

18. A Creighton-North Carolina second round game looks like it could end up being one of the most entertaining meetings of the tournament

Both teams can put a ton of points on the board, and it wouldn’t be surprising if this matchup got into the 90’s. Throw in a little Harrison Barnes-Doug McDermott high school teammate storyline, and you’ve got a back and forth affair with enough star power and points to make everyone happy.

19. It’s great that Robbie Hummel made it back to the tournament, but I’m not expecting much from Purdue 

Making it back from two torn ACL’s to lead Purdue to the tournament is a great story, and although Robbie Hummel isn’t quite the player he once was, his ability to bounce back from the disappointment of the past two seasons is admirable. However, Hummel is the only game changer the Boilermakers have on their roster and although guys like Lewis Jackson, Ryne Smith, and D.J. Byrd are solid supporting players, I don’t see the firepower or post play to take this team anywhere in the tournament.

20. After shooting 3 of 18 against Saint Mary's in the WCC title game, Kevin Pangos better redeem himself against West Virginia

That miserable shooting day also included 1 of 10 from three (he shot 40 percent overall this season) and was made all the more miserable by the fact that the Bulldogs lost to their bitter rivals Saint Mary’s in overtime. Pangos is too good and he’s played too well during the majority of his freshman season to go out on such a sour note.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America
21. Marquette and Missouri could meet in the ultimate “who cares about post play?” game of the tournament

It’s more than a little ironic that neither team has much of an inside game (Ricardo Ratliffe excluded), and they could easily be matched up against each other in the Sweet 16. At least that’s one game in which Missouri and Marquette won't have to worry very much about matching up with the opposing big men.

22. Ohio State got a 2-seed, won 27 games this season, and for some reason I feel like they underachieved

They were one of the top ranked teams in the nation for most of the season, but when you have Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Deshaun Thomas, and Aaron Craft, it just seems like the Buckeyes left something on the table during the regular season. The fact that Fab Melo won’t be available to harass Jared Sullinger could help Ohio State get back to the Final Four and make me feel better about how they performed this season.

23. Cincinnati looked really good during the Big East Tournament, but I have no idea what to expect from them over the next few days

Cincinnati has beaten Marquette, Georgetown, and Syracuse in their last five games (a 1-seed and two 3-seeds if you’re counting), and this team showed how dangerous they can be during the Big East Tournament. After the way they’ve been playing recently, I won’t doubt this team’s potential, but I’d be lying if I said I had complete confidence in them to beat Texas, while at the same time viewing them as a pretty serious threat to knock off Florida State if those teams should meet in the next round.

24. Otto Porter has quickly become one of my favorite players in the country

If you’ve seen this freshman play, I’m sure you can relate to what I’m talking about. Porter isn’t as high profile as guys like Henry Sims, Jason Clark, or Hollis Thompson, but he quietly goes about his business and makes an impact for the Hoyas all over the court. He leads Georgetown in rebounding, always contributes on defense, and Porter plays the game with a maturity that’s well beyond his years. John Thompson III finally relented and put the talented freshmen in the starting lineup five games ago, and Porter has responded by posting 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, while saving a few of his best performances of the season for the Big East Tournament.

25. The “first four” format makes it that much harder for anyone to talk themselves into those teams making a run

Let’s say you liked Iona and you thought they might be able to pull an upset over Marquette, but knowing that they had to beat BYU to even get a shot at the Golden Eagles kind of takes the wind out of your sails, doesn’t it? (the fact that Iona pissed away a huge lead in the second half of that game makes the “first four” format even tougher) Obviously, you can wait to fill out your bracket until the Tuesday/Wednesday games come to an end, but:

A. Who has that kind of self control?


B. Something about the fact that each of the “first four” teams has to share their spot on the bracket with another team makes it almost impossible to pick them to win in the first round

26. Is anyone else hoping for Pat Knight to completely lose his mind again?

It almost seems like he’s just trying to live up to the standard his dad set (not the standard of winning or being one of the best coaches in the history of college basketball, the standard of being a complete loose cannon that everyone half expects to spontaneously combust at any second)

27. The Missouri Valley Conference and the Metro Athletic Association both sent as many teams to the tournament as the Pac-12 did

Just let that one sink in for a minute

28. A list of teams that could just as easily lose in the first round as they could make a deep run (otherwise known as “Vanderbilt syndrome”)


Iowa State

Notre Dame


Wichita State




Murray State

29. Is Rick Pitino trying to do everything in his power to look as slimy as possible?

3 things about his appearance:

1. Let’s say you didn’t know him as Rick Pitino, Hall of Fame coach, would you ever consider even looking in his general direction if you saw him past the hour of 9 pm?

2. His interviews make my skin crawl

3. How on earth could any parent have Pitino visit their home and decide, “Yeah, my son’s going to play basketball for that man.”

30. Michigan State isn’t flashy, but seriously, is there any team or coach you have more confidence in to not let you down?

- I can envision Kentucky losing due to some poor shooting and inexperience rearing it’s head at the worst possible time (it wouldn’t be the first time)

- I could believe you if you told me Syracuse would fall at the hands of some hot shooting team and that Fab Melo’s absence would really hurt them

- Maybe John Henson isn’t totally himself and North Carolina can’t get it done

But I just can’t come up with any reason why the Spartans would have a let down right now.

31. My annual list of role players who could help their teams to the Final Four includes:

Kentucky: Darius Miller- Not everyone on Kentucky can be a future lottery pick.

Syracuse: James Southerland- His three point shooting has been disappointing this season, but Southerland can get hot and make a difference from deep.

Kansas: Kevin Young- Who? Yeah, I know I’m digging a little here, but Young is an LMU transfer who has backed up Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey for most of the season, and will be the guy to spell them in tight spots.

North Carolina: James Michael McAdoo- I could have gone a lot of ways with Carolina, but the thing that made me chose McAdoo was the fact that if Henson isn’t ready to go, he will be called upon to step up.

Missouri: Steve Moore- Besides Ricardo Ratliffe, Moore is the only guy on Missouri over 6’6’’ who sees regular minutes. Should Ratliffe find himself in foul trouble, Moore will be the only other guy the Tigers can turn to.

Duke: Andre Dawkins- I don’t think I need to say anything about Andre Dawkins that Kerry didn’t already mention in his Fun Facts post.

Ohio State: Lenzelle Smith Jr.- Looking at his numbers you would never know he started all 34 games of the season for the Buckeyes, but teams will be keying on Buford, Sullinger, and Thomas, and Smith Jr. should see a few open shots in the tournament.

Michigan State: Derrick Nix- He’s overweight, a little awkward, and literally tries to do an up-and-under every single time he gets a touch in the post, but somehow Nix gets the job done for Michigan State.

Marquette: Devante Gardner- At 6’8’’ 290, Gardner is one of the only players on this roster who can bang under the basket, and the Golden Eagles will need him at some point in the tournament.

Baylor: Brady Heslip- He’s completely useless inside the three point line, but he’s shooting 43 percent behind it. Also, he averages more three pointers MADE per game than rebounds, assists, and blocks per game combined (to steal Kerry’s fun fact idea for a minute).

Florida State: Deividas Dulkys- Roy Williams is still having nightmares about the 32 points and 8 trey’s he hit back in January

Georgetown: Greg Whittington- If it weren’t for Otto Porter he’d be getting a lot more attention.

32. John Henson’s sprained wrist has to be a concern right now

When combined with Tyler Zeller, Henson makes up a nearly unstoppable post combination for North Carolina that gives this team an advantage over pretty much everyone else in the country. Henson’s rebounding, supreme shot blocking, and improving offensive game bring more to the table on both sides of the floor than any other player the Tar Heels have. But the fact that he missed the last two games of the ACC Tournament (in which the Tar Heels didn’t quite look like themselves), and Roy Williams is waiting until Thursday to re-evaluate Henson obviously has to be a concern for anyone who thinks North Carolina is going to challenge for another National Championship.

33. I have no idea what Gus Johnson is planning to do during this year’s tournament

But what he should do is: create a website (if he doesn’t already have one) where he live streams his own calls of the games on TV.

My idea for his website:

34. A Florida State-OSU showdown in the Sweet 16 would be a bloodbath

I can already see Jared Sullinger trading body blows with the likes of Bernard James, Xavier Gibson, and Jon Kreft. Sullinger will probably wish he still had last season’s extra weight on his frame if this game happens.

35. Do your best to forget about your bracket sooner rather than later and just enjoy the show 

Odds are you won’t even come close to winning whatever pools you’re in, so you might as well just have a good time with the most exciting sporting event known to man.

36. It’s too bad that we’ll probably only get to see C.J. McCollum, Ray McCallum, and Andrew Nicholson play one game each in the tournament
They’re all extremely talented and fun to watch, but such is the life of mid-majors that have drawn the 14 or 15 seed.

37. Speaking of Nicholson…

There might not be a better matchup in the first round than him going up against Florida State’s seemingly never-ending barrage of big guys.

38. Although the reason why couldn’t be any different, Syracuse losing Fab Melo right before the tournament is eerily similar to the Orange losing Arinze Onuaku right before the 2010 tournament

Both players anchored the Orange in the middle when they were a number one seed heading into the tournament, and both players sudden departures left huge voids in the middle with virtually no time for this team to come up with much of a contingency plan. Without Onuaku, Syracuse lost to Butler in the Sweet 16 back in 2010, and it suddenly doesn’t seem so crazy if something similar were to happen again in 2012.

39. An entertaining side note to every NCAA Tournament is how much certain players can boost their NBA Draft stock in one or two games

If I had to guess I would say that Henry Sims, Kevin Jones, Trey Burke, Dion Waiters, Deshaun Thomas, and Festus Ezeli are this year’s “most likely to see their draft stock rise.” But what do I know? The NBA Draft generally makes no sense anyway.

And finally…

40. The rule of March Madness I live by now is: no matter what I think I know about 95 percent of the teams in the tournament, I’ve realized that I really don’t know anything.

Happy Tournament everyone.

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