Sunday, March 11, 2007

Quick NCAA March Madness Thoughts -- Izzo v. Crean

One of the more exciting days of college basketball year is today, when most of the conference tournaments wrap up and March Madness truly begins, as the NCAA Men's College Basketball Brackets are unveiled. And while I'm admittedly not the biggest college basketball fan in the country (I follow the sport, like I do all sports, and watch the tournament pretty intently, but usually tune out during the regular season for the most part) the tournament is always fun.

This year should be no different. So I waited to see where the two teams I was most interested in (Michigan State and Marquette) would land. And, as fate would have it, they play each other in the East Bracket. This is such an interesting matchup on a variety of levels. Aside from from being what should be a very good game between two pretty evenly matched teams, the game has a unique twist to it. As I have written before, if and when Michigan fires Tommy Amaker, the man I want to replace him is Marquette's head coach Tom Crean. Part of the reason I like Crean is his connection to the state of Michigan, chiefly, his apprenticeship as Tom Izzo's top assistant at Michigan State. Now, the student will get a chance to school the professor on the grandest stage of them all at the NCAA tournament. And with the way Michigan State has struggled this season, and with the ability Crean will have to get into Tom Izzo's head and come up with a perfect gameplan to limit the Spartans, it won't be easy for Michigan State. And, either way, no matter who wins, having to face North Carolina in the second round, in North Carolina no less, is an almost certain death sentence.

After looking over the brackets briefly (they were just released a few minutes ago) a few other teams I'd look out for in terms of long tournament runs include Oregon (#3 seed in the Midwest), #2 seed UCLA in the West, #2 Georgetown in the East, #6 Louisville in the South. Oregon, playing near home in Washington, may have the chance to do the most damage (especially if Winthrop upsets Notre Dame as I think they probably will) and Wisconsin struggles (which, after their blowout loss to Ohio State this afternoon could happen).

Last of my quick thoughts is amazement that the Big Ten was able to get six teams in the tournament, when it was pretty well agreed that the Big Ten had a down year, and just a few weeks ago, the conference getting just four bids was a realistic possibility. Indiana getting a #7 seed is incredible. I don't know what to say about that. And while Wisconsin did have a great season, and their RPI was #4 overall, after getting beat by almost 20 today by Ohio State makes it hard for me to give them a #2 seed. It also just goes to prove that had Michigan won just one or two more games, beaten Ohio State, or Purdue on the road, or Indiana or Michigan State on the road, they would have been in the tournament, because the Big Ten got much more respect and consideration then most thought they would going in.

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