March Madness 2012

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Before making some predictions about this year’s Big Dance, I would be remiss if I failed to congratulate the UVM men’s basketball team and head coach John Becker on an outstanding season. Now, let’s get to the projections.

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Upset Alert for #1 Seeds:

Michigan State

and Kentucky

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Memphis is a team that was drastically under seeded. 

The youthful Tigers went 26-8 this season and were battle tested early with games against Georgetown, Louisville, Murray State and Michigan. Despite coming up short in these out-of conference matchups, the young talent was immediately thrown into the fire, and the Tigers are a better team now because of it. 

Memphis has won their last seven games and in their three C-USA tournament games with an average winning margin of 25 points.

Will Barton is a stud – averaging 18.1 ppg and 8.0 rpg – and Joe Jackson rounds out one the nation’s best backcourts. Michigan State will have their hands full against an athletic Memphis team that has a legit chance at making the Final Four as a number 8 seed.

Despite being the overall  number 1 seed, Kentucky seems to have the toughest road to New Orleans. If UConn can get by Iowa State in the first round, it will set up an intriguing matchup against the Wildcats in the Round of 32.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas made a great point when he argued that UConn is one of the only teams in the country that can match Kentucky athlete for athlete. Certainly Kentucky has more talent, but UConn will be able to match their athleticism, speed and strength. 

First-year UConn center Andre Drummond will have a chance to become a household name if he can outplay Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and advance the Huskies past the Wildcats into the Sweet 16. 

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Final Four Favorites

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South Region:

Kentucky Wildcats

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I know I said they have the most difficult region in the tournament, but Kentucky, in my opinion, simply has the most talent in the country period. 

Anthony Davis is an obious absolute force in the middle but the talent that surrounds him – Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marcus Kidd-Gilchrist – is equally as impressive.

As many have said, a lot hinges on the efficiency of first-year point-guard Marquis Teague. But I believe that Kentucky’s ability to be aggressive on the defensive end, due to the shot-blocking ability of Davis, will overwhelm most teams that stand in their way to New Orleans.

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West Region:

Marquette Golden Eagles

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It was a difficult decision picking between Missouri and Marquette. I omit Michigan State because I think they will fall to Memphis in the Round of 32. 

Marquette is an extremely tough and gritty team that has quietly put together an outstanding year in the Big East. 

Marquette won’t overwhelm any team with size, but they have star-power in the form of Darius-Johnson Odom and Jae Crowder. Crowder is an extremely difficult cover on the defensive end. His strength allows him to play big in the post yet he shoots 36 percent from the three-point line. 

In March, star-players are as valuable as any other asset a team can have. The fact that Marquette has two solidified stars gives them a great chance to advance to the Final Four. 

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Mid-West Region:

North Carolina Tarheels

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More than any other region, I am hoping that the number one and two seeds meet in the Elite Eight. Kansas vs. North Carolina would be an immensely entertaining matchup between two of the most respected programs in the nation. 

I have been going back and forth on who I am picking for the Final Four and I ultimately decided that UNC’s depth gives them the edge. 

The ability of Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are hard to pick against, but UNC has weapons at every position on the floor. Harrison Barnes is an NBA ready guard, Tyler Zellar is as steady as they come on the blocks, John Henson is a long forward who can hit mid-range jumpers and block shots and Kenyon Marshall is the country’s best passing point-guard. 

UNC has a complete team and they should be viewed as one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. 

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East Region:

Syracuse Orange

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Losing Fab Melo is an absolutely horrific blow to a team that had a legit shot at a national title. That being said, I still think they can earn a Final Four bid due to the matchups they have. 

While Syracwuse will suffer in the shot-blocking department, they may actually be a better defensive rebounding team with Melo out of the line-up. Melo’s habit of violent block attempts takes him out of the rebounding equation and allows an opposing forward to crash the glass uncontested. Insert Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita, and 

the defensive rebounding may be better. 

Melo was a non-factor on the offensive end so I still seeing the Orange scoring plenty. The climb to the Final Four will be an arduous one, but the Orange have been overcoming adversity all season. This will say a lot about Jim Boeheim’s program.  

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National Champion

North Carolina Tar Heels 

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I originally had Syracuse winning a national title this year, but without Fab Melo, I can’t see them beating a team like Kentucky. 

Instead I am going to pick the Tar Heels for many of the same reasons I originally picked Syracuse: they are deep, athletic, excellent in transition and have outstanding leadership. 

Harrison Barnes is a future NBA star and they have the best point-guard in the country. John Henson continues to impress me with his versatility at both sides of the floor and Tyler Zellar is the glue that keeps the team together. 

A matchup between Kentucky and North Carolina would be a dream matchup between two deep and athletic teams. In the end, Carolina has the advantage because of their experience.