Monday, November 26, 2012

NCAA | Filling out your tournament bracket

Figuring out which four teams will be in Louisville

Why should basketball fans have all the fun?

Let hoop heads have their March Madness. This is the season for a little December Delirium.

Feel guilty each spring when you waste time filling out those basketball brackets? We officially absolve any guilt if you waste time filling out your volleyball bracket right now!

The NCAA and Northwestern Mutual are sponsoring a bracket contest with a modest prize--$500 worth of t-shirts, hats and other college-logo goodies. It’s not a new car, but think how good you’ll look dressed head-to-toe in your school colors!

[Note: as with most Facebook-based promotions these days, the contest requires you to “LIKE” the Northwestern Mutual Insurance Facebook page to enter.]

Alright, time to fill in the blanks. Here’s how we see it.

Seeded: (1) Penn State, (8) Minnesota, (9) Florida St, (16) Kentucky
Best first round match: Ohio St (22-10) vs. Notre Dame (20-9)
Overrated: Kentucky

PENN STATE plays in a Midwestern conference (Big-10), but always gets a Tournament break because the Nittany Lions are the biggest beast in the East. 31 conferences get automatic NCAA bids, and more of those leagues are in the East than anywhere else. Since the NCAA doesn’t yet seed more than the top 16 teams, the remaining 48 are usually sent to a close regional. Hence, the Nittany Lions get their share of Binghamtons, Hoftras and Liberties in their quadrant.

PENN STATE is a good bet to win this regional, with Hugh McCutcheon’s MINNESOTA team the best guess at a possible upset.

Seeded: (2) Stanford, (7) UCLA, (10) Louisville, (15) Iowa St
Best first round match: Michigan St (23-9) vs San Diego (21-6)
Overrated: Louisville

STANFORD should cruise through this bracket. Only one thing might stop them: rival CALIFORNIA. The Bears travel to Ames, Iowa for the first two rounds, and have a shot at beating both NORTH CAROLINA and IOWA STATE. That would set up a possible Sweet 16 match on their home court with Stanford, a team that might not instill fear in Cal players.

UCLA might struggle against the MICHIGAN STATE/SAN DIEGO winner, but the defending National Champion Bruins do not match up well against STANFORD.

Seeded: (3) Texas, (6) USC, (11) Kansas (14) Florida
Best first-round match: St. Mary’s vs. San Diego St
Overrated: Kansas

Make no mistake, TEXAS is not the third-best team in the nation, not by a long shot. USC is the team to beat in this region; the Longhorns got the highest seed simply because this regional is in their home arena.

This is by far the weakest of the regionals; USC is the only team from either the Pac-12 or the Big-10, the best two conferences in the land. Mick Haley should once again lead the Trojans to the Final Four.

Seeded: (4) Nebraska, (5) Oregon, (12) BYU, (13) Washington
Best first-round match: Santa Clara vs. Hawai’i
Overrated: Nebraska

Make no mistake, NEBRASKA is not the fourth-best team in the nation, not by a long shot. OREGON is the team to beat in this region, with WASHINGTON a close second; the Cornhuskers got the highest seed simply because this regional is up the road from Lincoln.

This is by far the toughest of the regionals; HAWAI’I deserved to be seeded (we would have put them in the Berkeley regional, seeded 15th.) BYU is an overlooked team that could give OREGON trouble. 

Twice in the past several seasons (2008 & 2010), NEBRASKA and WASHINGTON have played classic tournament matches in Seattle; each won once. If those two teams meet in Omaha, it has the ingredients of the best match short of the Final Four.

If WASHINGTON faces OREGON in the Elite Eight, home court will not be a factor. Wow, what a matchup.

Projected Final Four: Penn State vs. Washington, Stanford vs. USC

WASHINGTON is our reach pick, but the nation’s best blocking team has also shown it can be the nation’s best serving team. If the Huskies serve the way they are capable, then beating CENTRAL ARKANSAS, HAWAI’I, NEBRASKA and OREGON is possible, especially if they pass to their standards. A lot of “ifs,” but that’s true of at least four teams in the killer Omaha regional.

PENN STATE and STANFORD have both found ways to conquer all comers. It would be a shock not to see those two in the Finals. As young as they are, STANFORD still has the talent to win it all …

… and then come back in 2013 to face WASHINGTON in Seattle for next year’s championship!

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