Thursday, January 13, 2011

College Basketball

     From the World Series to the College Football Bowl games, the world of sports never ceases to amaze.  While every sporting event has its perks, the best playoff system in the country is March Madness, hands-down. When a team like St. Mary's stuns a team like Villanova in the second round, it's unbelievably exciting to watch.  Last year, Cinderella Butler shocked Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State, before falling to heavily-favored Duke in one of the best finales the sport has ever witnessed.
     You never know which team will make an incredible run down the stretch.  It's virtually impossible to predict a perfect bracket, which is exactly what makes March Madness so exceptional.  Picking a perfect bracket is about as improbable as the Apocalypse.
     Midway through the season, here are my top 12 teams that are most likely to cut down the nets when it's all said and done.

12) Missouri- The Tigers are always in contention in the Big 12, but I feel that this is the year they will finally get over the hump and make a run in March.  Marcus Denmon is a stellar scorer for Missouri, averaging around 18 points per game.  Missouri has defeated Vanderbilt, Oregon, and Illinois so far this season and the club has a lot of young talent.

11) UConn- Kemba Walker is a sensational player, but UConn simply doesn't have enough depth to contend with powerhouses such as Duke and Kansas.  I expect them to make it to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8, but not any further.

10) Michigan State- Tom Izzo's club always makes a run come tourney time.  Despite their recent struggles, I expect the leadership of Kalin Lucas to be instrumental down the stretch in another infamous Izzo run.

9) Kansas State- Jacob Pullen is averaging 18 ppg this season.  I question whether K State has enough depth to make a run in the tourney, but Frank Martin's toughness will lead to another successful season in Wildcat basketball.

8) Brigham Young- Jimmer Fredette is the best scorer in the country.  Period.  Scoring 32 in the first half en route to 47 overall in a romping over in-state rival Utah, Fredette is exceptional from beyond the arc and has a plethora of moves.  BYU makes the tourney every year.  This year will be no different, and I expect them to make the Elite 8, led by Fredette.

7) Villanova- Seniors Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher make up arguably the best backcourt tandem in the country. Stokes is shooting a whopping 94% from the charity stripe and 47% from three-point range.  Fisher's ability to draw double-teams off the dribble often leaves Stokes wide open from downtown, where he's money.  Coach Wright should be "Stoked" that he has the Coreys on his squad.  (That's "Wright," I went there).

6) San Diego State- This team is for real.  They may be the Butler of 2011.  I expect Kawhi Leonard to lead the Aztecs to at least the Sweet 16.  Despite their poise and shooting ability, this team may lack size against physical teams such as Ohio State and Syracuse.

5) Pittsburgh- The Panthers are a top-notch program.  They recently beat down on Georgetown 72-57 in a game that wasn't even that close.  Ashton Gibbs is a terrific three-point shooter and will most likely lead this team to an appearance in the Elite Eight, and possibly even the Final Four.

4) Ohio State- There's no denying that Jared Sullinger is a monster in the paint.  However, he has a tendency to get into foul trouble, which may prove detrimental in the long run.  David Lighty and William Buford are very skillful players, each averaging around 14 per game for the Buckeyes.  Getting to the Sweet 16 is a disappointment for this team.

3) Syracuse- The Orange are led by Rick Jackson, Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, and Brandon Triche.  Jim Boeheim implements the 2-3 zone to perfection and utilizes his team's size against weaker opponents.  Syracuse often gets out of the gate slowly, yet their tenacious defense keeps them in games.  Foul shooting is a serious liability, as the Orange are shooting 64% as a team from the line.  Despite this obvious weakness, the determination and talent of Jackson and Joseph will lead this team to at least the Elite Eight and possibly to a National Championship.

2) Duke- After exploding to a 15-0 start, the Dukies lost to a fired up Florida State team, 66-61.  Coach K attributed the loss to the strong play of the Seminoles, rather than to a lack of execution from his squad. This loss shows some vulnerability for the Blue Devils.  Though they will likely run the table in the ACC, I expect a slip-up against a team like Florida State that will out hustle you and close out games effectively.

1) Kansas- The Jayhawks have the best team in the country.  You could make a case for Duke, 'Cuse, or Ohio State, but I feel that Kansas is hands-down the best team in college basketball right now.  The dynamic duo of brothers Marcus and Markeef Morris is unguardable.  Cumulatively averaging over 30 points and 15 rebounds per game, the "Morris Monsters" (you heard it here first) make any team quiver in fear.  Explosive Freshman Josh Selby and Junior Tyshawn Taylor give the Jayhawks a formidable backcourt.  Kansas has the highest field goal percentage in the country, currently shooting at over 52% per game.

     March Madness never disappoints.  One or two of these Top 12 teams will undoubtedly lose in the first round.  That's what's so great about it.  It's extremely difficult to pinpoint an early upset.  Maybe all of these 12 teams will make the Sweet 16 and I'll look like a genius.  Maybe only three of them will and I'll resemble a doofus.  These are my Top 12 teams as of now, but you never know which teams will shock the country.  That's the beauty of March Madness.

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