T-minus a half-hour or so until the 2009 NCAA men's basketball championship tournament begins -- not counting the stirring Tuesday night action. Here's a little something to get the blood flowing... (not in that way, TJ, you perv).
And now, some words of wisdom from Mark, who promises he wrote this at a desk and not on a commode:
For the first time since I graduated high school I won't be planted on my couch for the first games of the NCAA Tournament. See, I got roped into working an event for one of my clients today. Now, because I neglected to thoroughly check my calendar, I'll be working while the March Madness kicks off. What's worse is that my City League Basketball season kicks off tonight at 6:30 as well. Seriously, who the fuck would schedule the opening night of a basketball league for the most exciting day of the year for basketball fans? Anyway, the moral of the story is that I won't be watching nearly as much basketball today (or tomorrow for that matter) as I want to be. So, since I can't watch the tournament I may as well write about it, right? What follows are some of my quick thoughts on the 4 days of basketball nirvana.
- You hear it every year, guards are the key to doing well in March. So, why then is everyone so high on Louisville this year? Their guards are uninspiring, erratic and the weakness of their team yet it seems that everybody has decided to disregard this fact. It may not catch up to them this weekend but it will at some point before the Final Four. If you want to take the Cardinals, be my guest. I'm not putting my money on Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee. No way.
- Speaking of the influence on guards on a Big East team, Jerome Dyson's injury will eventually prove to be UConn's undoing. You could make the case that Dyson was UConn's most valuable player prior to his injury. Not only was he their leading scorer, but he also happened to be the only big guard on their roster (Price, Walker and Austrie are all PGs). His size, athleticism and defensive ability were unlike any player on the Huskies roster and gave them an added dimension that complimented their stout interior play and the terrific ball-handling and playmaking ability of the rest of the UConn guards. I still think the Huskies can make the Final Four but they won't be cutting down the nets in Detroit.
- Everybody has teams that have repeatedly burned them in March (the Kittles/Lawson Villanova teams were my first taste of this) and thus influences the way your bracket's picks play out. For me, these teams are Pitt and Michigan State. As much as I want to pick Pitt this year, I've had them kill me with a 2 or 3rd round loss far too often to pin my hopes on the Panthers. As for the Spartans, I've finally reached the point where I can't, in good conscience pick against Tom Izzo and Co. until at least the Elite Eight. I don't know how he does it, but Izzo's got the right formula for March and I'm taking Michigan State deep into the tourney, even if I think the Big Ten is vastly overrated.
- Lost in all the talk about Ty Lawson's toe injury (by the way, anybody who makes fun of a toe injury has never had a serious one - I broke my toe late last year and couldn't cut or plant without pain for months.) is the emergence of Wayne Ellington for UNC. There's no doubt that the Tarheels need Lawson to go all the way, but Lawson's health won't matter if Ellington can't continue to play at the level he's been at for the last couple months. Ellington's always been a terrific shooter but he's now confidently taking people off the dribble and using his underrated athleticism to finish at the rim. It seems strange to say this, but Tyler Hansbrough is probably the third most important player for UNC during the tournament.
- A couple more notes on Carolina: (1) Backup PG Larry Drew, Jr. has easily the worst hairline in college basketball. Even Ron Artest thinks that Larry needs an edge up. (2) Freshman Ed Davis will be the ACC POY within the next 2 years. Despite looking like an 8th grader, Davis is a beast on the block with a lefty jump hook that he can shoot from up to 10 feet out.
- VCU is a popular pick and rightfully so. Eric Maynor is a pro, Larry Sanders is the ever so rare dominant mid-major big man and Anthony Grant is a terrific coach. However, UCLA is a bad matchup for the Rams. UCLA's going to throw both Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday at Maynor all day long and I expect their presence to bother him and force him to shoot a low percentage. As for Sanders, well, this ain't the CAA anymore. While he's a very good big man, the size and athleticism of guys like Alfred Aboya will bother Sanders just enough to allow a pretty average UCLA team to squeak out a victory.
- A lot of people are taking Utah St. over Marquette due to Dominic James' injury. Well, if that's going to happen (and I think it is) you'll become well acquainted with Luke Babbit. Babbit is a local kid who was a McDonald's All-American last year and chose to stay close to home and attend Utah State. He's big (6'9"), skilled and versatile. Look for him to give Lazar Heyward and Marquette all they can handle in the 1st round.
Okay, unfortunately I have to get going, but I promise that I'll be back later on today with thoughts on some 5-12 upsets, Syracuse, St. Marys and the impact of injuries on seedings/tournament entries as well as a rundown of teams I like and don't like. Enjoy the day, and see if you can't sneak out of work early while you're at it.