Big Papa of the Southeast: Pitt (1). I’m really big on Pitt’s chance this year. Jamie Dixon’s teams have been knocking on the Final Four’s door for years, and I believe this is finally the time. The draw is great, with a horrible 2-seed in Florida, one-man wonder BYU, injured St. John’s and Wisconsin, and inconsistent Kansas State. This smells like a recipe for Pitt’s first Final Four run since World War II. Pitt is the most battle tested team in the tournament after taking control of the Big East regular season. They are a stellar defensive team, holding opponents to 39.8% shooting, and are 7th in the country in rebounding. Look for Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker to push the Panthers deep into the tourney and come out of the weak Southeast region.
If not the favorite, then: Kansas State (5). At the beginning of the season, the Jacob Pullen led Wildcats were the sexy pick to make a push toward the Final Four after last year’s thrilling Elite Eight run. I remember watching that Sweet 16 game against Xavier that went to 2OT and being glued to my seat at a bar in NYC. But in January, there was question whether this team could even make the tournament after losing 5 of 8. But once January passed us by, the purple and silver have gone on to win 8 of 10 games and seems to be coming into full gear at the right time. Many are picking them to lose to Utah St., but I like Pullen and scary as hell coach Frank Martin to take this team to a Sweet 16 matchup against Pitt. If they can get by Pitt, we’re going to see them in Houston.
Don't Sleep on These Guys: Michigan State (10). You’re sitting there thinking, huh? Why? I’m glad you asked. This team has been an underachieving bunch. But if there’s one thing Tom Izzo knows how to do, that’s preparing teams for NCAA tournaments. Need any evidence? Final Four appearances: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010. And if floor general Draymond Green gets the ball in Kalin Lucas’ hands, expect some fireworks. Lucas is one of the most clutch players in this tournament, and with the exception of Jimmer I don’t think there’s a player I’d rather have in the Southeast bracket. Watch for MSU to blow by UCLA, upset Florida, and then possibly take out an injury riddled BYU or St. John’s to make a run toward a shot at the Final Four against Pitt.
Who'll Get Blown Up: Belmont (13) over Wisconsin (4). Since I already said I think MSU will take out UCLA, I’ll take this game. I literally can’t think of a worse course of events for Wisconsin. You lose 36-33 against Penn State, have star forward Mike Bruesewitz go down with a knee injury, and then draw sharpshooting, piping red-hot Belmont in the first round? Wisconsin attempts to slow the game down to a boring ass pace. If the Badgers get down away from their house, they don’t come back. Case in point? The loss at Ohio State in the regular season finale. Belmont loves to shoot the three, and hasn’t lost since January. Doesn’t it always seem like Wisconsin underachieves in the tournament? Bo Ryan needs to make a run to establish himself as one of the game’s great coaches, but I don’t see it happening this year.
Southeast Man-Beast: Jimmer, BYU. He’s so good I’m calling him by first name only. This guy has been the toast of college bball all freaking year. BYU’s Final Four hopes fall all on JImmer with the dismissal of Brandon Davies for doing the nasty with his girlfriend. If Jimmer wasn’t Mormon, he’d probably be getting laid all the freaking time with smooth moves and charming personality. Jimmer can do it all, and is a blast to watch. You have to guard him straight up once he gets on his half of the court for fear of launching a deep three, and if you play him too close his fundamentally sound skills can take the rock to the rack. Just enjoy the Jimmer ride while it lasts, which I don’t feel will be very long.Who the #&$* is This Guy, and Why Is He Awesome: Frank Hassell, Old Dominion. Shelvin Mack could’ve gotten the nod here, but he got plenty of pub with Butler’s run to the final last year. Hassell has been the force in the middle behind Old Dominion’s stellar season. Frank the Tank as he’s called, Hassell is a 6-9, 255 lb. specimen averaging 15 points and 9.6 rebounds a game this season. He can bang with the big boys down low, and has great finishing skills around the hoop. His ability to grab boards has been the main reason for ODU rising to #1 in rebounding in the NCAA, so I recommended watching this future NBA player for at least one game in the tournament.