I've broken down my 2008 NCAA Tournament picks by region and Final Four. Also available are links to my 2008 NCAA Tournament Stats, Facts, Trends and Tips, and NCAA Tournament Credo. I got three out of the four Final Four teams right last year (Florida, Georgetown and UCLA), so hopefully I have similar success this March.
Portland State can borrow all of the players it wants from Portland University, Portland A&M, Portland International, Portland of Alaska, East Portland, West Portland, Central Portland, Southwest Portland and it still couldn't come within 30 of Kansas.
Winner: #1 Kansas
#8 UNLV (26-7) vs. #9 Kent State (28-6)
I really like UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels are a really gritty team that will battle you to the very end, much like Pittsburgh. They obviously don't have the talent the Panthers possess, but being tournament-tested - they advanced to the Sweet 16 last year - I think they have what it takes to beat Kent State.
Golden Flashes point guard Al Fisher (14.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.1 apg) is a solid player, but I have two problems with his game. The first is his habit of turning the ball over. He actually averages more turnovers per game (4.2) than assists. Second, despite taking 123 threes this year, he's only 31.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Fisher is not the best player in this game, as some of the talking heads on TV will lead you to believe. That title belongs to UNLV's Wink Adams (16.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, 35.8% 3fg). Curtis Terry (10.9 ppg, 5.0 apg) also takes care of the ball better than Fisher.
Usually, 8-9 matchups are tough to project, but this one is easy for me. I'm going with the best player and the team with the more tournament experience. UNLV has the talent and personnel to make a dent in this tournament.
Winner: #8 UNLV
#5 Clemson (24-9) vs. #12 Villanova (20-12)
Villanova is better than its record indicates. The team went on a mysterious seven-game stretch in the middle of the season where nothing was going right. The Wildcats were losing to everyone, including Saint Joseph's by 22; Syracuse by 14; and Rutgers by 12. They also barely beat Seton Hall, escaping with a 72-70 victory. However, since losing to Georgetown on a very controversial call, they're 6-3, losing to only Marquette, Louisville and Georgetown. You could even argue that the Wildcats would have beaten the Hoyas if Scottie Reynolds didn't have to leave the game after getting cut on the face.
With all that said, I don't have Villanova as popular 12-5 upset. Clemson, like the three squads Villanova lost to, is that much better. The Tigers proved it on the court, taking North Carolina to a total of three overtimes during the regular season and knocking Duke out of the ACC Tournament in the semi-finals. Swingman K.C. Rivers (14.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and point guard Cliff Hammonds (11.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.9 apg) are lethal outside, both hitting at about 40 percent from long range. That spells trouble for the Wildcats, who have major problems defending the three ball. Conversely, Clemson locks down all windows and doors.
Winner: #5 Clemson
#4 Vanderbilt (26-7) vs. #13 Siena (22-10)
Vanderbilt has major problems that will be exposed in the next round. But that definitely won't happen here.
The fact that Siena is a 13-seed is a joke. Belmont deserves to be here. How am I supposed to take a Saints squad seriously when it recently lost to 12-19 Manhattan? How is Siena supposed to contain Vanderbilt's excellent three-point shooting when it can't defend it (37.3% opp 3pt)? I'm actually pretty annoyed because a worthy mid-major like Belmont or Boise State would have a great shot at winning here.
Major props to the NCAA Committee for setting this battle up between O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley. USC and Kansas State are two teams littered with freshmen superstars, but there are two major differences between them that makes USC an easy choice.
First of all, the Wildcats really suck on the road. They're 3-6 in away games, actually losing to non-tournament teams like Missouri, Texas Tech and Nebraska down the stretch. You would expect that from a young team, so it's actually pretty remarkable that USC was 7-4 on the road, beating Arizona, Oregon and even UCLA as visitors. One could argue that this is a home game for Kansas State, but Omaha is actually more than three hours away from Manhattan, Kan.
Secondly, the Trojans play excellent defense compared to Kansas State. The Wildcats cannot defend the three ball (36.9% opp 3fg), which pales in comparison to USC's figure of 30.4. Mayo (40.8 percent), Daniel Hackett (37.3) and Angelo Johnson (39.4) will be making long-distance jumpers throughout the entire game.
Kansas State isn't playing particularly well right now; the team is 3-6 in the past month. USC, meanwhile, is 6-3 during the same time frame.
#3 Wisconsin (29-4) vs. #14 Cal State Fullerton (24-8)
The only tournament I really botched over the past five years or so was in 2006 when Florida and George Mason came out of nowhere to storm the Final Four. But the one thing I was proud of when it came to my bracket was the fact that I picked No. 14 Northwestern State to upset No. 3 Iowa. I loved the Demons' speed against the Hawkeyes' slow-plodding offense.
This reminds me A LOT of that matchup. Cal State Fullerton loves to run and jack threes, much like Northwestern State. The Titans average 82.6 points per game, while Josh Akognon (19.9 ppg; 39.2 percent) and Marcus Crenshaw (42.0) hit long bombs from downtown. The Badgers, meanwhile, cannot score consistently. They have no one who averages more than 12.5 points, while only three of their players get double figures. I have a feeling that the sloth-like Badgers are going down at the hands of the lightning-quick Titans.
Could Wisconsin win this contest? Absolutely. But out of all the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds, Wisconsin is most likely to fall in the first round.
This is an odd situation. If Davidson beats Gonzaga, it's technically not upset because the Wildcats are 2-point favorites over the Zags. Very strange.
Gonzaga is renowned for its deep tournament runs a while back, but they haven't really done anything recently. Even Adam Morrison couldn't take them past the Sweet 16.
I'm just not a believer in the Zags. If Adam Morrison and Ronny Turiaf couldn't take them deep, how is this mediocre version of the team supposed to get by a Davidson squad that has yet to lose in this calendar year? The reason for Davidson's invincibility is Stephen Curry. The son of former NBA sharp-shooter Dell Curry, Stephen averages 25.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, and hits 43.8 percent from long range. Meanwhile, point guard Jason Richards (12.6 ppg, 8.0 apg) has developed into a very reliable floor general. Davidson is going to be tough to beat.
#2 Georgetown (27-5) vs. #15 Maryland-Baltimore County (24-8)
I had to look up what the BC in UMBC stood for. I was thinking British Columbia or Before Christ. Shows how much I know. No way Georgetown loses here.
Winner: #2 Georgetown
#1 Kansas (31-3) vs. #8 UNLV (26-7)
In my first-round write-up of UNLV-Kent State, I stated the Rebs have the talent to make a dent in this tournament. So, can they do it? Will they upset No. 1 Kansas? I doubt it.
Look, Kent State has its flaws. And I saw Wisconsin losing early to either UNLV or Georgia Tech last year because the Badgers were way too slow. Kansas doesn't have any flaws I'm aware of, and they're definitely not slow. I wish UNLV were in a more favorable second-round situation because I thought they could be a sleeper Sweet 16 team. Not this year.
Winner: #1 Kansas
#4 Vanderbilt (26-7) vs. #5 Clemson (24-9)
I promised I would talk about Vanderbilt's issues, and I'll keep my word.
First of all, the Commodores were able to build an impressive 26-7 record with key victories. They knocked off No. 1 Tennessee right after the Vols beat Memphis. They clobbered Kentucky, 93-52. They also beat a few other tournament teams like Southern Alabama, Austin Peay, Georgia, Mississippi State and the like. How impressive were those victories exactly? Let's take a look...
You know all of those wins I mentioned? Yeah... they were all at home. Vanderbilt was 4-6 on the road. They managed to win at Toledo (11-19), DePaul (11-19), Georgia (17-16) and South Carolina (14-18). Whoop dee doo. All of those squads had losing records going into last weekend. Thus, it should be no surprise Vanderbilt was quickly expelled from the SEC Tournament.
If the Commodores couldn't beat anyone good on the road, how are they supposed to knock off Clemson? I don't see it happening, especially with their problems defending the three (34.9% opp 3fg).
I'm not scared to pick Cal State Fullerton over Wisconsin because I know the Badgers don't have much of a chance against the Trojans. Let's pretend for a second that Wisconsin beats the Titans. The same problem they're going to have against CS-Fullerton happens here. USC is just way too quick and athletic for the slow Badgers.
So, how does USC match up with Fullerton? Well, considering they have similar-style offenses, you have to go with the better talent, especially when it plays better defense. Fullerton has the veterans, but it won't matter in this situation.
Give credit to Davidson for playing such a brutal non-conference schedule. They took on the likes of North Carolina (lost by 4), Duke (lost by 6) and UCLA (lost by 12), and looked like they belonged in each of those contests. Unfortunately, the Wildcats' weak conference won't prepare them for Georgetown. Not even battling Gonzaga will.
I'm not sure how Davidson is going to handle Roy Hibbert inside, and Jonathan Wallace (45.0 percent), Jessie Sapp (40.7) and Chris Wright (45.0) near the perimeter. The Hoyas defend the three extremely well (30.1 percent), and both Stephen Curry and Jason Richards will have problems scoring near the basket with Hibbert patrolling the paint.
Winner: #2 Georgetown
#1 Kansas (31-3) vs. #5 Clemson (24-9)
Although Clemson battled North Carolina really tough thrice, it couldn't actually get over the hump to beat one of the best teams in the country. Getting over that hump is what it'll take to defeat Kansas. I'm not sure if the Tigers can do that.
The Jayhawks are pretty similar to the Tar Heels in that they have excellent inside-outside balance. Darrell Arthur (13.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Darnell Jackson (11.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Sasha Kaun (7.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) will all be tough for the Tigers to contain down low while worrying about Brandon Rush (43.4 percent), Mario Chalmers (48.0) and Sherron Collins (35.6) all nailing bombs behind the arc.
Making matters worse for Clemson is that the Jayhawks play much tougher defense than both Villanova and Vanderbilt. Rock Chalk to the Elite Eight.
Winner: #1 Kansas
#2 Georgetown (27-5) vs. #6 USC (21-11)
USC can get by Kansas State because the young Wildcats can't play on the road. USC can get by Wisconsin because the Badgers are way too slow for the athletic Trojans. USC can get by Cal State Fullerton for obvious reasons. Georgetown is another story all together.
In case you haven't noticed, I put a lot of stock into age and experience. The Hoyas battled Ohio State tough in the Final Four last year. When they were doing that, half of USC's roster was in high school. There's no questioning USC's athleticism and talent, but they can't knock off a Georgetown squad that has been here before. As good as Taj Gibson is, I'm not sure if he can handle Roy Hibbert inside. Aside from the age differential, Hibbert owns five inches and 50 pounds on Gibson.
While I gave Roy Hibbert a huge advantage over USC's big men, I don't think he'll enjoy such an advantage against Kansas. The Jayhawks are deep in the front court, and Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun are closer to Hibbert's size than the Trojans are.
With somewhat of a draw inside, I give the Jayhawks the edge because I like Brandon Rush (12.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Mario Chalmers (12.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.6 apg) and Sheron Collins (9.5 ppg) better on the outside than Jessie Sapp, DaJuan Summers and Jonathan Wallace. Don't get me wrong; the Hoyas are a talented team, but I feel as though Kansas' slightly more consistent offense gives it somewhat of an upper hand in this matchup.
I can't give you more of a detailed write-up. Based on what I've seen out of these two teams, I have a gut feeling that Kansas will come out on top.