Before we get to the preview of the Midwest Region, please consider a donation to help the folks in Japan dealing with a horrific disaster. I’ll be donating a dollar for every game I watch, you should too. Now on to the basketball…
Now that the bad basketball portion of the season is mercifully over, we get to focus on the best few weeks of the year. We’ll be providing a preview and viewers guide, region by region. The East region features the Big Ten champion and number one team in the country, the lowest seeded team to ever make the final four, and two of the most storied programs in college basketball history. It was the easiest when it came to filling out my brackets. Famous last words, I know.
Team to love: Marquette Golden Eagles
They might not be a team you’ll love, but given the Gophers ability to lose close games in excruciating fashion, you should at least be able to empathize with Marquette and their fans. Marquette lost six games by two possessions or less. Like the Gophers, their quality of play often matches their opponents which should lead to a fun game or two. Throw in the aptly named and occasionally manic Buzz Williams, and that they are Wisconsin’s other big rival, and it should be hard not to cheer for them.
Team to hate: Kentucky Wildcats
Really, this is about their fans. Tubby Smith wasn’t good enough, neither was Billy Gillespie. Now John Calipari, despite putting together a number one team last season and a top 25 team this year, isn’t good enough. Nothing is more annoying than the “haves” complaining that they don’t have enough. And now they’ve made me defend John Calipari, one of the sleaziest coaches in college basketball history, and I hate myself even more.
Best Mascot: UAB Blazers
A dragon? Really? Usually mascots have a local angle, and when they don’t, we are stuck with 50,000 wildcats. After, wait…I’m not making this up… the San Diego Chicken threatened to sue the school over the use of Beauregard T. Rooster, UAB had to go in a different direction, and they definitely did that.
Worst Mascot: Indiana State Sycamores
If adversity reveals one’s true character, Indiana State is a bad cartoon. First known as “The Fighting Teachers”, the school changed their mascot to the Sycamore after students voted in jest for a common local tree, never expecting it would win. Realizing that the deciduous trees don’t inspire athletic success, they went the offensive to Native Americans route for a few decades. Once that was deemed unacceptable, they adopted “Sycamore Sam,” a generic “woodland creature” to be the face of university. They have progressively gotten worse over the last 50 plus years. Three strikes and you’re out.
Game you must watch: Long Island and North Carolina
It’ll probably end up like most 15-2 games, with a relatively close start with the superior team finally pulling away, but this is all but assured to be entertaining. Long Island averages 74 possessions per game, playing at the fourth fastest pace in the country. North Carolina averages 71.3 possessions per game. It is the perfect antidote to watching Penn State and Wisconsin get outscored by Jimmer Fredette.
Game to skip: George Mason and Villanova
The 8-9 games are usually competitive, and usually for the wrong reasons. Villanova is in a complete tailspin, having lost their last five games. George Mason made it to the tournament without beating a single good team and had to use an at-large bid after bombing out of their conference tournament. Have higher standards, and direct your attention to a close game between better teams.
Player to watch that you know: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina Tarheels
I’m not sure you’ll find many Gopher fans that were upset that he decided to have his worst game of the season down in Puerto Rico, but we did miss out. It appears that all the hype that was undeserved was just a month or two premature, because the North Carolina freshman is playing like the number one draft pick that many predicted he would be. He dropped 40 against Clemson, and has a knack for hitting clutch shots.
Player to watch you haven’t heard of: Tu Holloway, Xavier Musketeers
Jordan Crawford lit up the Gophers in last season’s NCAA Tournament, and Holloway is primed to do the same to some unsuspecting team or two this season. The senior point guard averages better than 20 points and 5 assists per game, and despite being generously listed a 6 feet tall, also averages 5 rebounds per game. He had a 14-10-14 triple double against Wake Forest this season and another triple double against Fordham. He has Evan Turner type numbers without the advantage of an extra seven inches.
Upset Special: Princeton Tigers
It is pretty convenient that they’ll be playing Kentucky, though this pick has little to with the likability of Kentucky. Princeton is obviously smart and plays a difficult to defend style of offense, even for the most experienced of teams. Kentucky is the 314th most experienced team in the country. Princeton will slow the game down as much as possible, and the Wildcats won’t be able to get the easy baskets they are used to. Princeton is also a good three-point shooting team, which will allow them to stick around enough to pull off another shocker at the end.
To the Final Four: Ohio State Buckeyes
It looks like the easy pick, and it really is. Not only are they the Big Ten champion, and it has been way too long since the B1G had a national champion, but they are really fun to watch. There is talent to spare, and each players knows their role very well. Dallas Lauderdale is absolutely fine being an enforcer, Aaron Craft couldn’t be happier playing defense, John Diebler doesn’t force things including his outside shot. Throw in David Lighty’s steady defense and Jarred Sullinger’s nearly guaranteed double-double, and they’re probably an unstoppable force, unless they eventually run into that immovable object.