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John Stansberry

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Things I think I might sorta know about this NCAA Tournament

March 16, 2011

Every doggone year I do the same thing, and every year I agonize over it. I get my March Madness bracket and just LABOR over it, like itís the LSAT and Iím trying to get into law school.

Some years Iíve done pretty well, and other years, well, other years my bracket looked as if a circus monkey filled it out. But with less than 10 hours to go before the first play-in opening round game or whatever that hell you call it is going to tip off, I still havenít filled out a bracket.

At this point, with the deadline so close, Iím going to do something Iíve never done before: give myself a five minute time limit to fill out the bracket and then be done with it.

I donít want to deal with the frustration this time around. In the past Iíve pondered the thing for hours, researched stats, filled it completely out, and then gone back to it because there was some 5/12 game I suddenly wanted to switch around. You know what that does? It starts the whole damn process over again.

So Iím going to go with the things I think I might sorta know about this field and just have at it. So here goes:
  • Iíve talked myself into thinking that 15th seeded UCSB is going to take out 2nd seeded Florida in the Southeast Region. In Tampa no less. Do I have that much against the Gators? Not really, Iím not holding that loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tourney final against them to the degree that others are.

    I guess Iím just of the mindset that UCSB, despite a decidedly lackluster regular season, might be playing extremely loose. They went dancing last year, slept through most of the campaign and probably didnít really expect to make this tournament. Therefore, the pressure on the Gauchos is even lower than it normally is for a 15 seed.

    UCSB is actually a decent defensive team, ranking first in the Big West blocked shots (4.2 bpg) and steals (7.3 spg). And with two reliable scorers in juniors Orlando Johnson (21.1 ppg) and James Nunnally (16.4 ppg), points in crunch time probably wonít be an issue for them. Okay, Iíve done it, Iíve talked myself into this upset special.
  • Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, keeps telling me that 14th seed Belmont is going to take out 3rd seed Wisconsin in the Southeast. Heck, Iím leaning that way as well, just look at how Rick Byrdís team dominated the Atlantic Sun. The Bruins are forcing an INSANE 19.2 turnovers a game.

    In Wisconsin, you would think that Belmont has the perfect matchup. Why? Because Wisconsin doesnít claim a huge edge in terms of overall athleticism. Yup, nobody is going to confuse the Ď10-í11 Badgers with being the Ď90-í91 Running Rebels. Also, Bo Ryanís team hasnít exactly been playing its best basketball in the last week and a half.

    But donít sell the Badgers short because of their recent swoon. Theyíve committed just 229 turnovers in 31 contests to this point, and a team that takes care of the basketball to this degree is a team Belmont will have difficulty with. As badly as I wanna follow the crowd and pick the upset in this one, my gut is telling me to go with Wisconsin.
  • I have been singing the praises of San Diego State all season, so much so that many people believe Iím now a bigger Aztec fan than Marshall Faulk. Iíve stuck with this team this far, so I might as well stick with them even further.

    Doing so implies that I might even pick SDSU over the top seed in their region, defending national champ Duke. And Duke will be that much better if freshman point guard Kyrie Irving is available and plays effectively.

    Iíd feel a lot better about the Aztecs if they had a more reliable scoring option on the wing. But any offensive deficiencies this team has are for the large part masked by solid defensive play. In Ken Pomeroyís latest defensive ratings, SDSU is fourth nationally, right behind Duke.

    Also, Iíll always give the time of day to a team that can rebound, and the Aztecs have a healthy +6.7 margin on the season. Yeah, Iíve talked myself into going a little further with this team.
  • Thereís an awful lot to like about Kansas, the top seed in the Southwest Region. The Jayhawks seem capable of hitting another switch offensively to get that 3 or 4 minute spurt thatís needed to pull away. Theyíre the countryís best shooting team (51.8%) and one of the best at generating second chance points (+7.7 rebound margin).

    But I felt so much more positive about last yearís Kansas team than I do about this one. And as you recall, that bunch couldnít get past Northern Iowa in the Ď10 NCAA Tournament. Iíve just got this nagging feeling that the current Jayhawk backcourt can be had by the right kind of team, say, a team like the Southwestís 4 seed, Louisville.

    If these teams hook up, I feel good about Louisvilleís chances. The Cardinals have generated an impressive 546 turnovers on the season, and like I said, I think KUís guards (Tyshawn Taylor especially) are susceptible to pressure. Iíll look silly if Kansas ends up cutting down the nets, but hey, Iíve already made up my mind.
  • I think I wrote off Vanderbilt over a week ago, and Iím sticking with that notion. Thatís because Kevin Stallingsís team flat out canít take care of the basketball. The Commodores are -0.9 in turnover margin, a figure that ranks 243rd nationally.

    If fact, Vanderbilt has turned it over 80 more times than its first round opponent, Atlantic 10 champ Richmond. Another feather in Richmondís cap is point guard Kevin Anderson, whoís started 128 straight games at point guard. Never underestimate the importance of solid guard play in this tournament.

    In last yearís tournament, Vandy was taken out in the first round by Murray State. Iíve convinced myself that history will repeat itself this week.

    Okay, Iíve now blazed through the brackets, taking the things I think I might know and coming up with this Final Four:

    East - Syracuse (?!?!?)
    West - San Diego State (I canít quit the Aztecs)
    Southwest - Notre Dame (How did that happen?)
    Southeast - Pittsburgh (Only #1 seed I showed love to)

    Now that I look at that, Iíve got that old urge to do some more bracket readjustment. Then again, screw it, Iíll keep this train wreck so all of you can have something to laugh at.

  • John Stansberry is a senior writer for EMAIL JOHN


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