March springs hope eternal, or something of the sort, for all 68 (yes, 68) teams that made their way into the finest sports spectacle of all - the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament!
Young men from esteemed institutions of learning and the far corners of the globe (More and more imports every year, it seems...) come together each March to deliver one exciting finish after another. Single elimination finishes, which makes it much more exciting than the NBA, MLB, MLS, NASCAR, and World Cup formats, and never leaves the die hard fanatic or casual follower feeling underwhelmed.
"Win or go home," the same dramatic feature that has made the NFL America's true passion and pre-eminent sport league, plays out over and over for the next few weeks for all to see, and the pure amateurism of the athletes involved adds a further dimension of dedication and joy that you can't find in professional sports. It is a wonder to behold.
So - you want a few tips or suggestions? Then you may have come to the wrong place - but I'll do my best to steer you in the right direction, and do it quickly and succinctly, by region and location.
Ohio State is the overall number one seed, and in any other year that may mean something. This year has seen so much parity that the number one is really no different than the number four in most respects. There are some very good teams in the field, but with the absence of any dominant players, there are a large number of teams that could effectively take home the prize.
Out of the East you have four or five possible teams to choose from when choosing a final four contender. OSU is the odds-on favorite, but I don't expect them to be the team that survives. Both Syracuse and North Carolina played well throughout the season, and Carolina is coming on strong at the end of the year, as most great tournament teams do.
Several pundits are talking about Washington's resilience this year, but I don't think they have the defense to compete past the first round, if they make it past Georgia. Syracuse can use its zone to great effect in tournament play, as it has shown in years past. I look for Villanova to play better than they have down the stretch, so keep an eye on the Cats.
My heart is with Kentucky, and they have played their best basketball at the end of the season, but they are young and have a tendency to wilt in pressure situations. If they advance to play Villanova in the third round, they have a chance to advance further, but I think the size of Ohio State would cause them problems in the second half - Kentucky has no depth to speak of.
My choice from the East? I hate to say it, but I like Carolina. They are long, quick, and can score, and they play good defense. Come March, if you don't have a stellar point guard, its all about defense and points in the paint. You get those qualities from OSU and UNC alike, but I think UNC can do them both just a little better, with Zeller and Henson both able to swap possessions with Jared Sullinger.
I think the West is the easiest region, while a lot of folks are calling it the toughest. I could be wrong.
I think Duke is the clear favorite to win this region - San Diego State is good, but untested, and I don't think they have played the quality opponents that Duke sees every night in the ACC. Arizona has the ability to catch fire and move ahead, but the PAC 10 was not a good proving ground this year, and they may be a tad overrated.
Oakland and Tennessee could both scare a few people if they play up to their potential, and Texas has an amazing group of athletes (If they learn to play together, and play hard, they can definitely make some noise here.). And I hate to use the term "Don't sleep on...," but, don't sleep on Connecticut. Kemba Walker is the real deal, and as much of a "hey, let me put you guys on my back" star as we will see this year. Five games in five nights during the Big East tournament? Might be the best five game stretch I've seen since Danny Manning was at Kansas.
As I said, though, it's Duke from the West.
I thought Notre Dame was overrated all year until I saw them play in the Big East tournament. They play hard, smart, and as much as I find Ben Hansbrough irritating and distracting, he is a fine leader for a team that thrives on discipline and teamwork. They might be the team that upends the Southwest's top seed Kansas. If they don't, I don't see anyone else in this region stepping up to the task, unless either Louisville or Purdue step it up at a neutral site.
Both Purdue and Louisville have the ability to match up with anyone in the tournament, with athletic size and speed, and Pitino is known for adjusting defenses as well as any coach in the country. Can either Georgetown or Vanderbilt do the same and knock Kansas from their perch as number one seed? I don't think so.
My money is on the Jayhawks from the Southwest.
I hate that Butler and Old Dominion play each other in the first round of the Southeast Region, because I think that each team could really make some noise in the tournament and upset a few folks. I think either team would have the ability to beat top seed Pittsburgh, who can be very impressive, but also very average, at times. I wouldn't bet on it, but it could happen.
Florida garnered a two seed in this region, and when they play well they can match up with anybody, but I just don't see this being the Gators' year. They will beat USCSB and UCLA (California schools may not fare well this year...), but I think they will run into a buzz saw with St. John's (The Johnnies will handily defeat Jimmer Fredette's BYU squad, mark my words.).
We may end up with a Big East regional final of Pitt and St. John's facing off yet again this year, and it wouldn't surprise me at all.
Big upset here? Look for Belmont to beat Wisconsin in the first round - the Badgers might not be expecting the level of talent Belmont brings to the table, and Belmont's tenacious defense could spell an early surprise.
Final pick, though? Probably Pittsburgh.
If I follow my picks throughout the process, I'm looking at Pitt, Kansas, Duke, and Carolina. But don't quote me on that. Like I said, there is a lot of parity this year and there could be plenty of upsets along the way - and upsets make it all the more exciting and wonderful.
It may not be the most exciting tournament we've seen in many years, but it is still the best tournament of any kind in the world. And that's a fact. Or at least an opinion.
Have fun watching, filling out your brackets, and following your team through the tournament!!
|Kingsport Christmas Tree Lighting|
|Held on Saturday, December 4, 2010. The Sevier Middle School orchestra played in the progress building at 6:00. The gingerbread house exhibit was held at the Regions bank. Music, reading of the Christmas Story, hot chocolate, hot apple cider and cookies, sing-a-long where held at Church Circle.|