With the massacre that was the 2011 portion of the Gophers’ season over with, we can finally turn our attention to basketball that isn’t vomit-inducing. Here at From The Barn, we’ll break down each region of the NCAA Tournament with some interesting early takeaways from the bracket.
Team to love: St. Peter’s
- Playing in their first tournament since 1995, the Peacocks represent the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and find themselves as a 14-seed after finagling their way through the MAAC tournament as a four seed. Not expected to compete for the MAAC championship in the least, St. Peter’s snuck by conference favorite Fairfield en route to the tournament title. Facing off against Purdue in the first round, St. Peter’s faces long odds for an upset, but how can you not root for a team called the Peacocks? In a bracket with obnoxious teams like Notre Dame, Kansas and Louisville, St. Peter’s is the team you just want to love.
Team to hate: Note Dame
- How anyone who can actually like Notre Dame that didn’t graduate from there is beyond me. The institution is on par with USC and Duke when it comes to prissy, over-priced FBS institutions. The Irish continuously fill their rosters with guys you just love to hate. A recent example would be Luke Harangody, who I put in my top 10 least-favorite college basketball players of all time. Follow him up with a guy like Ben Hansbrough and you should have no trouble drawing the ire of an entire nation. Why does a school like Notre Dame get to be this good? It’s not fair, and they should be hated for it.
- My namesake; how can I not pick the Zips as the best mascot? I’ve always thought that Akron had the coolest nickname, though I find the kangaroo to be extremely off-putting. The Zips originally came into existence through a student competition, in which they were named the “Zippers,” a reference to the rubber overshoes made by the Goodrich Corporation, BF Goodrich Company, that were nationally popular in the 1920s and 1930s. So there ya go. I also considered the Richmond Spiders for this award
Worst Mascot: Morehead State Eagles
- Seriously, this was the best you could come up with, Morehead? The Eagles? I never understand why teams choose names like the bulldogs or the tigers or the eagles. I mean, come on, choose something that means something to your school. Or if you’re going to be boring, choose something that at least shows some originality. The Murray State Racers have a pretty boring name, but at least it’s a bit more unique. Zero points for creativity, MSU.
Most intriguing first weekend matchup: Vanderbilt/Richmond
- I’m extremely excited to see how Richmond stacks up against Vanderbilt. Coming into the tournament as one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10, the Spiders seem a bit under-seeded at 12. This is a team that has only lost seven games the entire season and own victories over Purdue and Temple. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, comes in almost a bit OVER-seeded, having gone 23-10 during the season with a couple questionable losses. If there was an upset to be had, it would come in this game, which is why I feel it should be an anticipated matchup. In fact, I have Richmond in the Sweet Sixteen in a couple of my brackets. They shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Game to skip: Illinois/UNLV
- Hopefully we don’t have watch a minute of this game. If you really want to see a middling Big Ten team take on a middling Mountain West team then be my guest. There are other 8/9 matchups that would be a lot more fun to watch (Villanova v. George Mason, for instance) but anyone who has seen the Illini on the court this year know that there is nothing exciting about any game they happen to take part in. Plus Demetri McCamey makes me want to hurl a brick through the television.
Player to watch that you know: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
- We wanted to break down a big-time player and maybe a guy who is flying under the radar. We’ll start with JuJuan Johnson, perhaps the most underrated player in the nation. If you’ve seen Johnson play then you know what I’m talking about. The guy can basically hit from any spot on the floor with anyone in his face at any time. Watching him is a real treat and, even though he utterly dominated the Gophers, showed poise that I’m not sure even Coach Painter knew he was capable of. With E’Twaun Moore struggling at times this season, Johnson was the guy who maintained the dominating presence for the Boilermakers.
Player to watch that you don’t: Justin Harper, Richmond
- Justin Harper just may be the best-kept secret in the nation. Playing in the almost-relevant A-10 conference, Harper has quietly racked up 18 ppg and 7 boards. In fact the Spiders’ senior forward has developed into one of nation’s most efficient scorers. With over 46% of his field goal attempts being categorized as jumpers, Taylor has posted marks of 59% shooting from 2-point range and 47% from beyond the arc. That’s Jon Diebler-esque, folks.
- If you haven’t already noticed my love affair with the Richmond Spiders, then I’ll just have to spell it out. Richmond comes into their matchup with Vanderbilt already underrated and hungry to prove that they belong with the Xaviers and Temples of the world. In fact, the Spiders made it further than either of their A-10 rivals in the conference tournament. What’s more, their opponent, Vanderbilt, has been very beatable in the first round, losing to both Murray State and Siena in each of their last two appearances. This game has all the makings of an upset: a solid mid-major-ish school going up against a seemingly overrated major program.
To the Final Four: Kansas
- I have a hard time picking against Purdue for this spot, but how can you argue with two losses ALL SEASON. Sure, the Big 12 might be down a bit this year, but they’ve still racked up wins against K-State, Missouri, Texas and Texas A&M. The Jayhawks rank first in the nation in FG%, second in assists per game and fifth in points per game. And this is coming with a relatively tough schedule, compared to the rest of the nation. With the Morris twins coupled with Tyler Reed and Josh Selby, Kansas is a battle-tested, veteran team. In terms of the Southwest bracket, the Jayhawks pass the eye test as the most formidable team at this point.