Big Papa of the East: Ohio State (1). Yea, yea yea. I’m from Columbus. I may be a homer, I may not. But the facts show that this is the best team in the country. They went 30-2 this season, with their only losses being on the road at 4 seed Wisconsin and 3 seed Purdue. They beat 16 teams that are in this season’s tournament, and established themselves as a front runner early on this season by spanking 2 seed Florida in Gainesville by 18. Their team doesn’t go very deep, but why would they? Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft have been stellar. I’ll cover Sullinger below, but Craft handles the ball well, makes clutch shots, and plays within his game. The only question to me is how will the diaper dandies hold up with the pressure mounting deeper into March? My guess is they’ll be just fine. Senior leaders are present with man-beast Dallas Lauderdale, Jon Diebler, and 5th year senior David Lighty, the only holdover from the 2007 final team. Diebler is one of the best three point shooters in NCAA history, and was known in high school for pulling up from half court to shoot, where he would often make them. With Thad Matta manning the helm, there’s a lot to like about this team’s chances, even in a tougher than expected draw with a second round matchup with either George Mason or Villanova waiting and a potential blue chip meeting with Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
If not The Pick, then: Kentucky (4). Kentucky is a scary looking team, having won eight of their last nine. Sure, they’ve lost eight games this year, but six of them were by four points or less. The only game they really got blown out in was against UConn, but that was pre-Thanksgiving. As is typical of Kentucky teams of late, they’re led by three freshman, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb. They’re a balanced team, with four Wildcats averaging double digits on the year. Senior leader Josh Harrelson may be one of the only players in the field whose size can hold up to slow down Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger. I like the draw, as I don’t think Princeton will be a threat in the first round and don’t see West Virginia as a team that can knock Big Blue Down. If the Cats can get past OSU in the Sweet 16, they may go dancing all the way to Houston.
Don’t Go to Sleep Against These Guys: George Mason (8). I was really disappointed to see GMU receive an 8 seed, because I feel like their tourney run will end against Ohio State in the second round. The question is how a team that really doesn’t have any marquee wins against BCS schools will fare against the likes of Villanova, Ohio State, and either West Virginia or Kentucky. The Colonial league has three teams in the field, and George Mason clearly was a head above the rest of the mid-majors this year. Considering they didn’t even get to the CAA’s final and still got an 8 seed, the committee must have agreed. Until the loss to VCU on March 6, GMU hadn’t lost since a January 8 heartbreaker to Old Dominion. For those counting at home, that’s a 16 game winning streak. I don’t care who you are, but that’s impressive. And for those doubters out there, remember this: in 2006, Jim Larranaga’s squad beat Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut on the way to the Final Four as an 11 seed.
Who Gets Blown Up: Marquette (11) over Xavier (6). I’m not sure if this is more me being high on Marquette or low on Xavier. Because of my perpetual hatred of Xavier, I’m guessing it’s the latter. I’m not that familiar with Marquette, but I’ve seen Xavier play many times this year. While they dominated the A-10, I just don’t feel like the team has the assets to advance deep into March. While Tu Holloway is a stud, I’m a little concerned with the rest of the team’s ability to step up if Holloway isn’t on fire or Marquette’s quick guards shut him down. The key for the game will be Marquette’s ability as an undersized team to stop 7 foot ogre Kenny Frease, or as like to call him, Shrek. With only one player on the roster over 6-7, Marquette needs to hold fort in the paint and let its perimeter players do the rest. I’m confident in their ability to do so.
East Man-Beast: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State. Just watch a game. He’s a man playing against boys out there. He has completely dominated games, which is impressive because he’s not really a high-flyer. His post moves are very refined, and his defensive presence on the court cannot be overstated. He may not be an athletic superfreak, but his fundamentals and smooth play continue to amaze. He’s lived up to his billing as the top recruit in the country, and I can’t wait to watch this guy play over the next three weeks. Buckeye faithful are praying he stays, and the consensus seems to be that he’ll be there for at least one more year.
Who the #*&% is That Guy, and Why Is He Awesome: Cam Long, George Mason. A wiry 188 pounds on a 6-4 frame, Cam Long is not an imposing figure. But the senior averaged 15.3 points per game this season and shoots 43% from behind the arc, and is a player who has a lot to prove to NBA scouts hoping to take a stab on him in June’s draft. He has been the mark of consistency this season, having failed to reach double digits in points only three times. His best game was a 30 point outing against James Madison, where he hit all four three-pointers he attempted and made 10 of 13 from the line. He’s a very smooth, unselfish player who can finish with both hands once he takes it to the hole. Look for him to make a name for himself over the first couple rounds of the tournament.
Picks: First Round (I don't care what anyone says, this is the first round)
Ohio State over Play-in, George Mason over Nova, WVU over Clemson, Kentucky over Princeton, Marquette over Xavier, Syracuse over Indiana St., Washington over Georgia, UNC over LIU.
Bucks over GMU, Kentucky over WVU, Syracuse over Marquette, UNC over Washington.
Bucks over Kentucky, Syracuse over Marquette
Bucks over Syracuse to the Final Four.