My Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Miami, and Florida
Obviously I didn’t exact take a major “risk” in my original Final Four picks by selecting a 1 seed, two 2 seeds, and a 3 seed but so far I am safe.
Louisville because I believe they are peaking at the right time. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are finally playing up to their potential while Giorgi Dieng has atleast one block in seven of Louisville’s last eight games. There are few teams in the NCAA tournament who have the combination of talented guards and aggressive front line big men to give Louisville problems. The two biggest threats to Rick Pitino’s Cardinals, Michigan State and Duke, are set to play each other in the Sweet 16. While Oregon will give them a good game, I see Louisville getting the win because they have better overall skill players.
I have been on and off the Ohio State “bandwagon” for the last few years. I picked them to come out of the West Region this year is because I felt the bracket was weak. Gonzaga proved to be the weakest number 1 seed (losing in the Round of 32) while the 3 seed( New Mexico) , 4 seed (Kansas State) and 5 seed (Wisconsin) all lost in the Round of 64. The only teams left standing in Ohio State’s way to the Final Four are Arizona, Wichita State, and LaSalle. Not exactly “Murder’s Row”. If Ohio State plays up to their potential, they will be in the Final Four.
Aside from the fact I have been a “U” fan for years, the University of Miami has never had great basketball program. Head Coach Jim Larranaga has changed the basketball culture at Miami and has led a group of upperclassmen to a place where the school has never been before: a major basketball program that has a chance to win a national title. Standing in their way at this time are two athletic, Big East tested schools (Marquette and Syracuse) along with the pre-season national title favorite (Indiana). The road to the Final Four is not an easy one for the Hurricanes but I believe Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott, and Rion Brown are up for the challenge.
Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan is one of the most successful and seasoned Head Coaches in college basketball today. At times the Gators have underachieved this year but in the Tournament they have really come to play after the “embarrassing” loss to Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament Finals. Florida has won their first couple NCAA tournament games by an average of 23 points. Florida Gulf Coast has had a good run but I think Florida has a more experienced coach and the athletes to neutralize the FGCU Eagles playing style. While both Kansas and Michigan pose interesting matchups for Florida I believe the Gators have the team and the right head coach to be able to handle either of those teams in order to get to the Final Four.
I was wrong about: Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Missouri, Colorado, UNLV
Obviously I am not some super genius because I was wrong about these matchups just like the other 50 percent of America. Here is what I learned by these mistakes:
-I underestimated Wichita State, thinking since they had a few kids graduate; meanwhile Pittsburgh played underwhelming basketball and did not have enough offensive firepower to catch up after they got behind. Proving it was not a fluke, Wichita State also went on to defeat number 1 seed Gonzaga.
-Did anyone, truthfully, believe Wisconsin would loose to Harvard? The Badgers have solid talent and a very good coach Bo Ryan. Watching Wisconsin struggle to execute their offense and hit jump shots was surprising.
-Kansas State was one of the most athletic and underrated teams in the NCAA tournament field. But La Salle came into this game after winning the opening round/play-in game with the attitude that they could win any game. A confident underdog is always dangerous and Kansas State didn’t play up to their potential. And I was the guy who had Kansas State reaching the Elite Eight; that was a bad call. Congrats to a hard working, talented La Salle team that got to the Sweet 16.
-Missouri and Colorado were two athletic teams that were considered top five teams in their respective conferences. But both struggled against teams that presented bad matchups that they could not overcome. It appeared both teams went into desperation mode and got away from what got them into the tournament. But the two schools that defeated them, Colorado State and Illinois respectively, didn’t make it past the round of 32.
-UNLV had the dubious task of facing a team they defeated during the regular season at a “neutral site” that is within driving range of that opponent’s campus. It was practically a home game for the California Bears and the weakness of UNLV was exposed: traditional point guard. With all of their great skill players the Rebels had no one to run the offense and no one stepped up to be a leader on defense.
I was right about: Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon, Michigan, Marquette
-Why did I pick FGCU to make it to the Sweet 16? Because I thought their style of play matched up well against Georgetown, San Diego State and Oklahoma. With excellent athletes, good defense, and high intensity offense translates to many opponents because they do not have a surplus of NBA talent. Also, FGCU beat the Miami Hurricanes earlier this season. They passed my “eye test” and maybe I was one of the few people who thought so.
-Oregon was seeded so low by the NCAA committee it was pathetic. Oregon was inconsistent through out the season, but part of that was due to injuries. What Oregon had that their opponents Oklahoma State and St. Louis didn’t have was aggressive rebounders. Oregon was very underrated and they showed they did not deserve to be a 12 seed after being one of the top teams from the PAC-12 this past season.
-Picking Michigan and Marquette wasn’t exactly a major reach since they are 4 seeds and well-known good teams. But there were those who doubted them because they had tough matchups. Marquette had to survive near defeats to Davidson and Butler. Meanwhile Michigan showed that they are ready to handle any challenge put in front of them. Having talented guards and forwards are the staples of what has gotten Michigan and Marquette this far. It will be interesting to see if their talent can help them continue their journey in the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota and UCLA fire their head coaches, but why?
I was not too surprised when UCLA fired Ben Howland but I didn’t agree with the move. Howland, who had a run of three straight Final Four appearances but there were those in the administration at UCLA who felt Howland had overstayed his welcome and he was not what they school wanted in the long run. But who will take the position? VCU’s Shaka Smart is not leaving Virginia and Brad Stevens is happy to stay at Butler. I also do not see FGCU’s head coach leaving no income tax and suburban Fort Meyers, Florida for Los Angeles. UCLA will have to do an exhaustive search to find a coach who can be the coach and recruiter than is needed to match the reputation and history of UCLA.
Meanwhile Minnesota fired the best caliber head coach in the school’s history. Tubby Smith helped resurrect the reputation of the Minnesota basketball program that was marred by scandal in the 1990’s. Smith brought credibility to the basketball program and the school. But they school did not put out the work to support him. The facilities have not been upgraded in over a decade while Smith is having to recruit against great basketball programs like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana. Firing a great coach like Smith makes me question the perspective and outlook of the Minnesota athletic department that over the last ten years had struggles in many of their team sports’ programs.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh loses in the first round with a team that had more talent on their team than UCLA and Minnesota but their head coach Jamie Dixon loses in the first game in the tournament. Dixon gets a long term contract extension. Smith wins a game in the tournament with Minnesota but he gets fired. Something is wrong with this picture.