My favorite time of the year! Now that I officially work in a scouting capacity, I basically will be glued to 2-3 TVs and multiple online streams for the next 3 weeks. For the casual sports fans or readers who don’t like sports at all, you may want to change your Subscription settings. I’ll be posting a lot of sports and sports-related stuff up until early April.
March Madness has become what I’d like to call a time of predictable irony. There’ll be at least 1 shocking upset. There’ll be an unexpected Cinderella. And there will be a handful of players who will catapult themselves to immediate superstardom. We know that those 3 things will occur every single year. The irony is we have to watch the tourney every year waiting to see who will be the beneficiaries of those absolutes.
As we head into Championship week, there’s specific teams that I’ll be watching because I’m on the fence as to which way they’ll go. It’s impossible to see every single game of a college team, unless you’re a fan or an alum. So Championship Week gives everyone a chance to examine the buzzworthy teams play at their highest level of skill.
Ohio State: I’m a big fan of defense. While knocking down open 3s and making down-to-the-wire free throws is often what gets highlighted, those offensive opportunities are created by solid defense. The Buckeyes average 36 rebounds per game with 25 being defensive boards. Indiana isn’t significantly better; they average 39 rebounds per game with 26 being defensive boards. What gives Ohio State a slight edge in the Big 10 is that their half court defense can be at times problematic for opponents. Physicality is a huge part of efficient defense and these are a group of consistently physical guys. I’ll be in Chicago this weekend to see the Big 10 so I’m watching the Buckeyes closely.
Baylor: Talk about an erratic team! I’ve seen many Baylor games and I’m scratching my head because they really could go either way; more than the other 4 teams I picked. They demolished Kansas, who were the unanimous winner of the Big 12. That win put them back into the NCAA tourney picture. But they need to win in the conference tourney. What makes them so unpredictable is their wins and losses have no uniformity. So there is no definitive reference point for this squad.
Cincinnati: Last year, I had the Bearcats making it to the Sweet 16 in 1 of my brackets. But this year, I have no idea what their identity is. They’re 1 of those teams that aren’t strikingly good yet they’re capable of surprising you. They aren’t a very good shooting team nor are they great defensively. Their saving grace is that they play in the Big East. The Big East reminds me of the NFC; you have the very good teams and very bad teams. Only maybe 2 or 3 teams are on the cusp and Cincinnati is that type of team.
Kentucky: Well, this is what happens when you let a key guys on your roster declare for the draft. (I’ll use this to mention that I don’t think 1-and-dones for freshmen are ever a wise idea. Sure, it makes sense to the player. Declaration is expected if their team wins it all. We’ve seen this happen multiple times. However, for the team itself, the 1-and-done players leave a huge void for young successors. It also can effect the coach’s original gameplan when said freshman was recruited.) Much like the Big East, Kentucky is the beneficiary of a conference that doesn’t have multiple juggernauts. But this roster is nowhere near as naturally good as last year’s. That’s been clear in some of their road losses. John Calipari actually stated after the conference blowout to Tennessee “This one, I’ll burn the tape. I’m not watching it. I had to sit through it.” Cold world.
North Carolina: I struggled on which ACC team to include on this list. Miami has been a huge surprise, but I predict their bravado getting the best of them. Virginia is looking okay going into their 1st round matchup. As the 4th seed, they’ll face either NC State or VA Tech; both of whom they’ve beaten. But the Tarheels have been extremely frustrating. For starters, I hate Roy Williams substitutions. I mean I abhor them! You can be watching a Tarheels game (regardless of the opponent) and it’s guaranteed that at some point you’ll be screaming “why is he still on the court?” or “he’s in the zone, why are you sitting him?” Going back to what I said about Kentucky, I wonder how different this team would look if Kendall Marshall had stayed another year. Beyond Coach Williams’ style, this team is lacking that caliber of player.
I’ll admit, I am showing favoritism to the East and Central conferences because it’s where I live. Although, I’ll be watching Oregon, Arizona, and Cal, I just haven’t seen enough of their games to have an educated opinion.
What teams will you be watching closely during Champ week? Does any 1 team really stand out as a sure sign to the Final 4 as of now?