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My first memory of watching college basketball will always be watching Duke beat Kentucky in the elite 8 in the 1992 tournament, when Christian Laettner hit the turnaround buzzer-beater jumper to win the game. I’m 28 years old now so at the time I was 10. From that moment on I was hooked. Already a fan of basketball because of my two older brothers and Michael Jordan, I had found a another way to enjoy the game, March Madness.
The next year would bring about the infamous Chris Webber timeout against North Carolina in the national championship game. My best friends older brother was a huge Michigan fan, rocking the Michigan shorts and the Michigan jersey. My best friend was a UNC fan, only because Michael Jordan went there and he tagged along and never has frayed from liking the Tarheels from Chapel Hill. It was great to recently watch the Fab 5 documentary on ESPN as it brought back memories, while informing me of tons of new information that I was ignorant to as a kid.
Years after Laettner, there would come many more buzzer beaters, Tyus Edney, Bryce Drew, Richard Hamilton, Drew Nicholas, and many others. March Madness to me is the most exciting post-season tournament. So many teams, so many games in a 3 week stretch. Me and my friends would simulate the whole tournament, pretending we were the players on the respected teams. We would hit buzzer beaters, and try to replicate what we saw happen in the games.
My oldest brother and his friends were consumed by the madness for years as well and in 1987 started their own NCAA tournament fantasy league. They would draft players from the tournament and keep points as the only stat. Whosoever team scored the most points won, simple. But an idea so simple, became a passion not just for my Brother and his friends, but for me as well. In 1996, nine years after their first league was formed I joined the pool at the age of 14 years old. Despite a four-year hiatus from 1998 to 2002 I have participated every year since then. This is a new way to play fantasy, not many are familiar with it. Everybody is used to the traditional way just picking the brackets. While that can be exciting, picking the players is the perfect recipe for the fantasy player who loves, or just casually enjoys College Basketball.
I watch a lot of college Basketball and I will be honest most of it is in preparation for this players pool. I do love college basketball however regardless and love to watch players dominate the college game and some go onto develop in the NBA. I’m a Georgetown fan only because my oldest brother liked them and I quickly liked them as well. Always liked their colors and to this day black and grey are my colors of choice.
So whether you’re in a player pool already, want to start one or are just picking the brackets, I will give you my breakdown of this years teams that I feel can make the most noise in this tournament and the players on those teams that are the key to their success. This is a year of heavy parody which could bring about some very unexpected events. The great teams really don’t exist in this tournament. The Mid-majors could cause some serious trouble for the power conferences and that’s what we all want to see. However in the end, I feel the Big Boyz will show their superior skill and fill out that the later stages of the tournament, into the final 4 and national championship game.
Before I start I have to give props to two men who I believe have done wonders for college basketball. That is Dick Vitale who is from one of the towns I grew up in, Elmwood Park, NJ and Gus Johnson. Both men totally represent what the college game is about. They match the excitement of the game. They bring the passion and energy that makes watching the game that much better.
One of the first games I watched all year was Ohio State vs Florida. Florida has been inconsistent the past couple years so I was interested to see how they would play against a pretty good Ohio State team that lost it’s best player in Evan Turner, but at the same time was bringing in a top prospect with Jared Sullinger. Watching that game, the Florida crowd was ruckus and Florida was hitting shots left and right. But Ohio State would counter every shot, David Lighty, William Buford, Jon Diebler all were banging threes. Lighty a Senior now who played on the team that lost to Florida in the 2007 national championship had improved mightily in my eyes. He was getting to the basket and hitting mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers left and right. They also added another freshmen, guard Aaron Craft who is a good ball handler that plays solid defense. But most impressive was probably Sullinger, who has a lot of size and is very crafty around the hoop. It was obvious to me that Ohio State head coach Thad Matta had built himself a great team. From that point I was convinced this team would win the National championship. I usually get a feeling every year about a team, but the feeling came very early this year, and in my eyes, Ohio St. will win the 2011 National championship.
This team has everything you want really in a tournament winner. They can shoot, they can drive, they can rebound. Jon Diebler shoots 50% from 3-point land and Jared Sullinger is the best big man in the country. David Lighty is a top 15 college player in my eyes and William Buford is up there as well. Aaron Craft doesn’t play like a freshmen, he is very poised and a very smart player.
Besides not having an explosive point guard, that they can offset with other areas of strength this team’s only true weakness is depth. They only play 7 guys. Dallas Lauderdale, a senior, comes of the bench and is a good rebounder and defender , but after that it gets risky. The only other player that logs significant minutes is Deshaun Thomas.
Most teams in tournament aren’t too deep, maybe 8 or 9 guys tops. A lot are similar at 7 deep, so I truly don’t feel this is a huge problem. Plus these kids are young and I believe they can handle it. Their talent and balance outweighs their depth. I have stuck with Ohio State all year and they have not disappointed. Thad Matta will win his first Natl title and the Ohio State Buckeyes will be cutting down the nets in Houston.
PATH TO THE FINAL 4
One thing to always look at when analyzing the bracket is which 1 seed or even 2,3 or 4 seed has the best path to the Final 4. You would think Ohio State would get the easiest road being that they were the #1 overall 1 seed, but that didn’t seem to happen. They got put in the same region with Kentucky, North Carolina and Syracuse. Still, I don’t feel any of these teams match up to Ohio State’s overall talent. While all these teams could beat them, I think Ohio State clearly is superior to all 3.
Arguably Kansas and Pittsburgh have the easiest roads to the Final 4. Duke also has a pretty nice road, but it’s a bit harder with Uconn and San Diego State. Also possibly Texas and Arizona could give Duke trouble although I don’t see those teams as a threat.
My next best Bet along with Ohio State to reach the Final 4 is Pittsburgh. While many can argue that Kansas or Duke are better and Pittsburgh always disappoints in the tournament (which is true), I feel this is Pittsburgh’s year but not because they are an extremely talented team. Again, this a somewhat down year for college basketball, most years this Pitt team couldn’t stand up to the other top teams, but this year I feel they can. I don’t see many of the teams in their path as being a threat. I believe they are in the region with the weakest 2 seed and that is Florida. Florida lost their conference tournament, and the committee admitted they had placed Florida in the 2 spot before the SEC Final began. Had they not done that, Florida probably would have been a 3 seed or a 4 like Kentucky is.
Other teams like #3 seed BYU, #5 Seed Kansas St., #4 seed Wisconsin and even #8 seed Butler are all good teams, but I don’ think they are as talented as Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has the guard play and the big guys to get far in this tournament. Their big guys aren’t great offensively but they can rebound and defend. Ashton Gibbs is one of the best shooters in the country and has shown he can make big shots in big moments. Brad Wannamaker has grown up and can slash and shoot. Also Gilbert Brown is a versatile player.
Like Thad Matta, I think Jamie Dixon makes a run to the Final 4. Pittsburgh didn’t win their conference tournament because of Kemba Walker making Gary McGhee look like a fool. However they did win the Big East Regular season title and were the best team in the best conference in America the whole year. For that they are my next and final guaranteed Final 4 pick.
Kansas is an interesting team. Last year with Sheron Collins and the rest of the team they have in place now, they got bounced out of the second round by Missouri Valley Champion Northern Iowa. This year they have everybody back besides Sheron Collins. The Morris brothers have stepped up their game and can rebound and score as both average double figures. Tyrel Reid and Brady Morningstar sit on the perimeter and wait for the two brothers to kick it out to them so they can hit 3-pointers. And these guys hit them at a high percentage. Tyshawn Taylor who had a great freshmen year, but has regressed since has once again emerged somewhat as he had a nice Big 12 tournament. Bill Self tried bringing in Freshmen Josh Selby who was suspended early in the year, to be Collins replacement, but Selby hasn’t really worked out.
Taylor now has control of the point and I like his potential, but I have my doubts about his consistency. If Taylor can play the way he did in the Big 12 tournament than Kansas should cruise right to the Final 4. But he has been inconsistent for 3 years, so the odds are against him. Regardless, Taylor isn’t really a traditional PG, he doesn’t create and he’s not the type that can make a big shot at the end of the game. Who will take that big shot for Kansas at the end of the game? Marcus Morris in the post? Kansas really doesn’t have a guard who can take that big shot at the end of the game or can create that big shot. Ultimately I think Kansas will suffer because of their lack of strength at the point. We all know it, you need guards in the NCAA tournament and Kansas doesn’t have the right ones.
I honestly could see Illinois or UNLV upsetting Kansas in the second round, although not likely. Louisville with their guards and ball pressure could also knock off the Jayhawks. Notre Dame as well. Kansas could easily make the Final 4 and go to the national championship, but I am picking them to get knocked off in either the 2nd round or beyond because of their lack of guard play. Out of the four 1 seeds I think they have the highest chance of getting knocked off first.
That brings me to Duke, the last of the #1 seeds. I think Duke is almost a lock to get to the Elite 8, but I think this is where it gets sticky. A team like Arizona or Texas could knock them off in the sweet 16, but really I don’t see it. I think Duke will have problems with either Uconn or San Diego State. I like San Diego State a little bit more than Uconn and I think they also have a better chance to beat Duke.
Duke has the a great guard in Nolan Smith and Seth Curry and Johnny Dawkins can bang threes. Also they still have Kyle Singler. But I think teams can out-tough them, like a UConn or a San Diego State. So I am going with Duke to the Elite 8 just not the final 4. I am taking San Diego State with their athletic and defensive abilities to beat them. Steve Fischer gets the redemption after losing to Duke in the 92 Championship. But, don’t count out Kemba Walker and Uconn, I could see them in the Final 4 as well, but I will give San Diego State a slight edge. There is now talk that freshmen stud guard Kyrie Irving could return for the tournament. He has been out all year with a toe injury and it’s unknown at this time when he does return how much he will play. If Duke gets Irving (17 ppg before injury) back for this tournament and he’s back to playing regular minutes by the Sweet 16 next week, then Duke instantly goes to the National Championship favorite behind Ohio State and arguably the out-right favorite.
# 3 Seed UCONN
I think we all saw the shot by Kemba Walker against Gary Mcghee (posted earlier) in the Big East tournament final at the garden. But here it is again one more time, it really never gets old. That shot will never be forgotten. Kemba Walker is an NBA player plain and simple. The Bronx, NY native is ultra quick and is incredibly crafty. He knows how to use his speed and slow down and change the pace on his defenders. His shot has developed a ton and he can pass and even rebound a bit. He has the ability, much like Carmelo Anthony did for Syracuse back in 2003 to lead this team to a National Title. Many people think they will be gassed from the 5 games they played in a row in the Garden and that could possibly be true. But Kemba seems to have a motor that doesn’t stop. Also during the Big East tournament, other Uconn players started to step up. Jeremy Lamb started to score and make big shots with his little runners, Alex Oriakhi played much more aggressive in the paint and Shabazz Napier the talented freshmen guard stepped up as well. Jim Calhoun knows how to build teams and he’s got a solid one right here. It will be tough for Uconn to get by both San Diego State and Duke, especially with Kyrie Irving, but Uconn has the talent and the leader in Kemba Walker to get it done.
# 3 Seed BYU
The “Great White Hope”, the next Larry Bird, these are some of the things BYU Guard Jimmer Ferdette is being called and for good reason. Jimmer took the tournament by storm last year upsetting Florida in the first round and scoring 37 points in the double-overtime win. Fredette is now a senior and leads the nation in scoring averaging 28 points per game. He has more range than any other shooter in college basketball. He is extremely crafty with the ball and smart as well. Simply put, Jimmer Ferdette is an amazing player. Like what we saw with Stephen Curry with Davidson in 2008, taking them to the Elite 8 and nearly knocking off the National Champion Kansas Jayhawks, Ferdette can lead BYU that far and maybe further. Obviously losing their best rebounder Brandon Davies for the year hurts, but BYU with Jimmer’s talent has a legit shot to run the table.
#2 Seed North Carolina
The ACC regular season champions are a young talented team who have a chance to run the table. Since the move of Kendall Marshall to the point guard position this team has been red-hot. Harrison Barnes has emerged as one of the best players in the country and Tyler Zeller is a talented big man inside along with John Henson. But Carolina is young and inexperienced. They gave up the lead in every game in the ACC tournament and you can’t do that in the NCAA tournament. But, this team still has all the talent to put it together. But It will be a tough road coming out of the east having to go through Washington, Syracuse and Ohio State.
#4 Seed Kentucky
This is another extremely talented but young group. Freshmen Terrance Jones started out red hot, but has cooled and has been inconsistent of late. If he can get back to the level he was playing at earlier in the year, then Kentucky may be able to upset Ohio State in the Sweet 16 and move on to the final 4. PG Brandon Knight is a smart, savvy point guard who can shoot and penetrate. John Calipari has once again built another solid team a year after losing John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. This new team isn’t as talented, but they can make some noise and have a chance to get to the final 4. I saw this team handle Notre Dame and Louisville earlier in the year and this team when Terrance Jones is on his game is flat-out dangerous.
Other Possible Contenders- Syracuse, Notre Dame, San Diego State (previously mentioned as my favorite for Final 4)
#6 Seed St. John’s
People might be sleeping on St. John’s now that their 2nd best player D.J. Kennedy is out for the tournament. Still, we have seen many times a team lose a star player and step up in his absence. With Kennedy, St. John’s was a legit Final 4 candidate, but even without him they can advance deep. Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker get a lot of play, but D.J. Hardy deserves recognition as one of the best scorers in the country as well. Hardy can hit from long-range and can get to the hoop with success. Hardy is the type of player that can carry a team on it’s back. Steve Lavin has done a great job with this senior laden team and the Redstorm are not gonna go down without a fight. If St. John’s beats BYU in the second round, this team could then take down Florida and have a chance to reach the Final 4. It was with D.J. Kennedy but St. John’s has beaten two #1 seeds this season in Duke and Pittsburgh.
Chris Wright has been cleared to play and Georgetown needs his services desperately. Without him, G’town lost 4 straight games and looked completely lost. Because of this many have picked G’town to lose in the 1st round to either VCU or USC. The fact is this is a different team with Chris Wright. This is the team that beat up on Utah St. and Memphis, beat Missouri, Beat Syracuse, Beat Louisville, and St. John’s. Chris Wright hasn’t missed many games and he has been practicing with the team for the past couple weeks. I think G’town will be ready to go and will advance to the second round against Purdue and have a great chance to beat Purdue and then possibly Notre Dame to get to the Elite 8.
#6 Seed Xavier
Another 6 seed, Xavier was the Alantic-10 regular season champ and are a dangerous team. Led by guard Tu Halloway, they also have size with Kevin Freese and Mark Lyons and also have a nice shooter in Dante Jackson. Halloway is one of the best point guards in the country. Their first round matchup against Marquette is a tough one and then if they win that they would battle Syracuse in the second round. But playing in their own state of Ohio in the first two rounds could prove to be a huge advantage, especially with such a talented squad.
#7 Seed Washington
The Pac-10 has been down the past couple seasons, but Washington is still a very talented team. Led by Guard Isiah Thomas, this shifty little guard can make big shots just like Kemba Walker can. He can help this Washington team cause a stir. If they can get past North Carolina in the second round, which will be tough considering the game is in Charlotte, NC, Washington could end up as far as the Elite 8.
#7 Seed UCLA
UCLA didn’t even make the tournament last year, which is shocking, but they were in rebuilding mode. This year they are back with a very talented but young team. Much like Kentucky and UNC when things are clicking for UCLA they can beat almost anybody. This year they beat BYU by 7, St. John’s by 7 and Arizona by 22. They also lost a 1 point game at Kansas on a controversial foul call at the end of the game. UCLA has balanced scoring with 4 players who average in double figures. Freshmen Josh Smith controls the inside at 6’10 305 pounds, Reeves Nelson the versatile forward plays inside and out and Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt can slash and drain threes. Then of course you have Ben Howland, one of the best coaches in the country. This is a team that could easily beat Michigan State in round one and then upset Florida in round 2.
#10 Seed Michigan State
You can’ t leave Tom Izzo’s team off this list, every year it’s the same story, they start slow and get hot towards the end of the year. But that didn’t really happen this year. They have underachieved all year and if it wasn’t for beating Purdue in the Big Ten tournament, the Spartans wouldn’t of been playing in the NCAA tournament. What happened to this team this year? Well, Kalin Lucas has been getting better but hasn’t been the same since his torn Achilles injury. Darrell Summers has disappeared since his great tournament play last year that took Michigan State to the final 4. Guard Korey Lucious was booted off the team mid-season. So can Michigan State put it together in a pinch? If Kalin Lucas can play to the level he’s capable of and Darrell Summers plays to his potential this team can make a run to the regional final. Delvan Roe and Draymond Green are big bodies in the middle that can rebound and play defense. This team has the talent still, and the coach, but can they accomplish this feat yet again? One thing is for sure, it’s hard to bet against them with their track record.
#13 Seed Morehead State
Morehead State has a tough matchup in the first round against Louisville, but this team has the players to pull the upset. First they have the leading rebounder in college basketball in Kenneth Faried. Faried averaged 14 rebounds per game along with 17 points. The kid is a beast on the boards coming in at 6-8 225. Repping Brick City, NJ (Newark NJ) Faried is the type of player that can change a game. But it doesn’t stop with him, Demonte Harper a Senior like Faried, is a good scorer who averages 16 a game. He scored 25 and 27 in Morehead State’s semi and championship games in the OVC conference tournament. Remember this is the same conference that brought out Murray State who upset Vanderbilt in last years tournament, so watch out for Morehead State to possibly take down the #4 seed Louisville Cardinals.
#13 Seed Oakland
Led by NBA prospect 6’10 Keith Benson, Oakland is a team to be reckoned with. They average over 80 points a game and score in bunches. However they also let up a ton of points as well and are one of the worst defensive teams in the tournament. But facing Texas in the first round, a team that can go through scoring droughts, this may be the perfect matchup. Reggie Hamilton is a guard who can score from all parts of the court and he gives Oakland along with Benson a nice inside out presence. They beat Tennessee earlier in the year and only lost by 1 to Michigan State.
#13 Seed Belmont
Two things stand out in Belmont for me, they have the highest scoring margin of any team in the tournament (top indicator for tournament success) and their depth. This team is flat-out dangerous. They won 30 games this season and did it with their extensive depth. They have 11 players that play 10 minutes or more and not one player plays more than 25 minutes. They are a smart, savvy basketball team. They remind me of the Northern Iowa team that knocked off Kansas in the second round last year. Wisconsin recently scored just 33 points against Penn State in the Big 10 tournament and Bo Ryan’s club may be up to their old tricks. Jordan Taylor is a great player, but Wisconsin is prone to upsets in the tournament. This will be a close game and Belmont could pull the upset and maybe find themselves in the Sweet 16.
#14 Seed Wofford
I was very upset when I saw Wofford matched up with BYU in the first round, because I really wanted to pick this team to upset whoever they played. I just find it so hard to bet against Jimmer. But that’s not to say that Wofford can’t do it, because they easily can. This team is arguably the best mid-major team I’ve seen this year. This same team almost beat Wisconsin last year in the tournament but fell short losing 53-49. The team is led by 3 seniors, Noah Dahlman (20 ppg), Cameron Rundles (14 ppg) and Jamar Diggs (12 ppg). Dahlman is very fluid inside player, Rundles drains 3-pointers and Diggs is a slasher. This team is very good. They can not only beat BYU and get out of the 1st round, but this team could get to the Sweet 16. Again though, it’s just hard betting against Jimmer, but Wofford is a team you don’t want to forget about.
That’s it, take those teams, keep an eye on them and the players I mentioned. Look at their last 5 games scored, check out their scoring averages, fill out your bracket and decide your attack. Those teams are the most dangerous teams in the tournament.If you have any questions feel free to email me at SteveDeAngelo@gmail.com. In part 2 of this article, I will reveal my strategy of building a winning team. If you’re just in a bracket pool then part 2 does not pertain to you. If you are in a players pool or want to get in one check out FantasyPostseason.com and you can start or join a league there.