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: Wofford
- Wofford is quickly establishing itself as a fixture in the Southern Conference thanks in large part to a bunch of hometown boys from Minnesota. Tying for the best conference record with the College of Charleston, the Terriers find themselves in their second-straight (and second-ever) NCAA Tournament. Their success comes directly from some names you may recognize from the Minnesota high school basketball scene. Braham’s own Noah Dahlman and DeLaSalle’s Cameron Rundles and Jamar Diggs reunited in South Carolina and quickly turned around a program that had struggled for years. Dahlman is averaging a cool 20 ppg with Rundles clocking in at 14. Now the school finds itself up against Jimmer Fredette and BYU with a chance to pull a major upset. Whether or not they can pull it off is a legitimate question, but this is the team to root for if you have some Minnesota blood in you.
Team to hate: Wisconsin
- Maybe I’m just jealous of losing two local athletes to a hated rival, but I sincerely hope Wisconsin’s season ends painfully and embarrassingly. I don’t care much for the practice of rooting for your rivals in the postseason and I really don’t care how well the Big Ten does in the tournament (yes, I understand the money thing). I want Jon Leuer to score zero points. I want Jordan Taylor to have 12 turnovers. I want Belmont to win by 45 points. MIKE BRUESEWITZ MUST PAY FOR HAVING SUCH A STUPID HAIR-DO. If you’re a Minnesota fan, you have no reason to root for the Badgers, even a little. They took our players, they took our dignity and now they are shoving it right in our faces with their fancy four seed.
Best Mascot: Santa Barbara Gauchos
- I’m a sucker for unique nicknames, and the Gaucho definitely fits that bill. UCSB may be a 15 seed, but they far and away own the coolest nickname in their region. A gaucho is basically a South American cowboy and, though they aren’t all that ferocious, are known for their “rebel-rousing.” And how’s this for a fun fact: according to the UCSB web site, gauchos are also adept at the use of boleadoras – three wooden balls or leather pouches full of stones tied together with braided leather straps. Boleadoras are thrown in order to capture running cattle or game. Who knew?
Worst Mascot: Wofford Terriers
- Out of all the species of dogs you could choose to name your teams after, I would probably put the terrier near the bottom of my list. Maybe I have the Scottish terrier on my mind, but all I can think of is a wimpy lap dog whenever I hear of a team called the Terriers. I mean, there are some cool dogs out there: retrievers, greyhounds, boxers, mastiffs. In terms of badassery, the terrier definitely scores low.
Most intriguing first weekend matchup: Michigan State/Florida
- I know Michigan State has underachieved this season, but this is Tom Izzo we’re talking about here. The same Tom Izzo that gets so much out of his teams during March when people think he has so little to work with. Should Michigan State get past UCLA in the first round, I really think they can make some noise against Florida and get pretty far in the tournament. Remember, the Spartans started the season in the AP Top 5 and, even though they’ve lost Korie Lucious, are a veteran squad that I feel is being taken extremely lightly. Couple that with the fact that Florida may be a TEENSY bit over-seeded at two and we have the makings of a possible upset run. I’m already looking forward to this matchup.
Game to skip: Pitt/Asheville
- Honestly, each game in this region presents the chance for an upset, and I’m truly excited for each of them. I’m not as high on BYU as other people are and, even though I don’t think Wofford can pull it off, am on high alert to see them underachieve in prime time. That leaves the Pitt/Asheville game as one you can obviously snooze through, though Florida/UCSB won’t be far behind. All of the other games, though, should make for some entertaining basketball.
Player to watch that you know: Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
- Taylor has been instrumental to Wisconsin’s success this season, but underachieved in the Badgers’ two losses to end the season. Wisconsin can beat the best in the nation when they’re on and Taylor has been key l in leading the Badgers to victories over extremely talented teams. The question, though, is will Taylor show up in the tournament to help the Badgers achieve the level of play they’re capable of? He’s been lightning in a bottle for a Wisconsin team that has overachieved all season, but it’ll be interesting to see how he responds when everything is on the line.
Player to watch that you don’t: Frank Hassell, Old Dominion
- Old Dominion comes from the underrated Colonial Athletic Association and is a team that has been known to cause trouble for major programs that look past them. This season, ODU leads the nation in rebounding margin at plus 12.2 and grab a staggering 45% of the shots they miss. A huge team inside, Hassell leads the Monarchs with 15 ppg and nearly 10 rebounds. Coming into his own the second half of the season, Hassell has scored over 20 points in four of his last five games and was named the CAA tournament MVP. A force to be reckoned with inside, Hassell may be a name you hear a lot about in the next few days.
Upset special: Utah State
- What does 30 wins in a season get you? Not much apparently, if you’re the Utah State Aggies. Coming out of the WAC, USU racked up three decades of wins, losing only once in three and a half months and rolling through the WAC tournament. Had they not won their conference tournament, they likely would have found themselves on the bubble, which doesn’t seem fair. That said, the Aggies are a team that took down St. Mary’s and lost to BYU by only six on the road. They haven’t faced much of a test this season, but you don’t win 30 games by accident. Coming into a game against a beatable Kansas State team, USU is in position to pull the upset and begin a not-so-unexpected Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen.
To the Final Four: Wisconsin
- First off, this region is just a mess. I don’t really think Pitt is a Final Four team and Florida and BYU are overrated. Kansas State will lose to Utah State in the first round and St. John’s just isn’t experienced enough to make a deep run. So who is left? Basically Wisconsin and Michigan State, but who picks a 10-seed to the Final Four? The Badgers are a dangerous team behind Leuer and Taylor and have shown that they can beat the best with wins over Ohio State and Purdue this season. They have a veteran presence, a solid coach and make their free throws, all of which serve you extremely well in March. So my question is, why not? Everyone will be going with Pittsburgh, but the Badgers, in my view, have just as much of a shot to emerge as the champions of the Southeast bracket.