DONT PUT MONEY ON:
The Wildcats may sport a 26-1 record (as of Feb. 24), but their lack of experience will become deadly when March Madness rolls around. Freshmen Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe have proven to be liabilities in tough situations, because they aren’t able to keep their cool and often pick up technical and intentional fouls for their rough play. Also, John Wall has dazzled the nation with his NBA athleticism, but he tends to get carried and to make careless decisions, holding the honor of holding more turnovers this season than any other player on a top 25 team.
-West Virginia Mountaineers-
Despite being ranked in everyone’s top 10 as of late, head coach Bob Huggins’ squad has faltered in Big East play. The Mountaineers have lost three of their last five and are just 3-4 against ranked opponents. This is a recipe for disaster when preparing for a tournament in which every team will be talented after the first round. The Mountaineers also rank just 74th in the nation in total points per game, which does not bode well for any situation that calls for the team to make a comeback and score a bunch of points in a short amount of time.
HOW TO TUNE UP YOUR TOURNEY:
-Step #1: Show a Little Favoritism-
It wouldn’t be the most exciting tournament in sports if every team didn’t have hopes of a deep run. With that in mind, there’s nothing wrong with putting your favorite team in the Elite Eight, Final Four or as national champions. If you’re a Jayhawk, take ’em, if you’re a Wildcat, make ’em the champs… It may just work out for you.
-Step #2: Do Some Research-
Watch the conference tournaments. Check out all of the expert’s sleeper picks. Find out which teams can lock down on defense for crucial possessions. The more you know about each team, the less you will be picking games based upon which name you like better.
-Step #3: Earn Bragging Rights-
Find a group of friends and set up a bracket challenge. It’s amazing how a little competition can have you throwing your remote at the television during a meaningless Butler-Clemson game at 11 a.m. on a Thursday.
WHO TO PUT MONEY ON:
-Ohio State Buckeyes-
The Buckeyes are surging at the right time, having won seven of their last eight with their only loss coming to a potential one seed in Purdue. Head coach Thad Matta’s group has also proven that they can win in tough environments, with road wins at Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana. Finally, every great team has a great player, and the Buckeyes boast Evan Turner, who should win several national player of the year honors.
The Orange are known for their 2-3 zone defense, which can become even more effective in March, when players and coaches don’t have enough time to devise a strategy to beat an unfamiliar defense. As talented as head coach Jim Boeheim’s squad is on defense, they are just as efficient on offense, where they lead the nation in field goal shooting percentage. The Orange are also supremely deep, with five players averaging in double figures and two more just below the 10 points per game mark. Forward Wesley Johnson is a versatile superstar on the wing and guard Andy Rautins is deadly from three-point range.
DON’T REST ON THE SLEEPERS:
-Cornell Big Red-
Head coach Steve Donahue’s Ivy League leaders proved to the nation on Jan. 6 that they can hang with the best of the best, as they nearly ended Kansas’ 51-game winning streak at home in a close five-point loss. At 41 percent, Ryan Wittman is a sharpshooter behind the three-point line, and center Jeff Foote is a seven-foot tall monster inside, as most teams will not have the size to match up with him.
-Northern Iowa Panthers-
The Panthers are a veteran group that knows their roles well. Head coach Ben Jacobson’s bunch made the Dance last year, and this experience will pay off for the 23-4 Panthers, since players can have confidence in Jacobson’s experience. Four Panthers average ten points a game, and this kind of balance drives defense squads mad as they try to decide which players to focus in on. Senior center Jordan Eglseder is a force inside, and the Panthers are 6-0 when Eglseder puts up a double-double..
GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS:
If the basketball gurus were to draw up a blueprint for a national champion, their end result would look a lot like the Jayhawks. They have veteran leadership that has been there before in senior Sherron Collins and head coach Bill Self. They have the ability to lock down on defense as the second-best team in the nation in defensive field-goal percentage, and center Cole Aldrich is sixth in the nation with an average of four blocks per game. And finally, in Collins, the Jayhawks have a surefire go-to guy late in the game when they need a crucial basket.
-Kansas State Wildcats-
The Wildcats were in the Big Dance just two seasons ago during Michael Beasley’s stellar freshman season. However, this year’s squad has dreams of making some noise, not just making the bracket. Junior guard Jake Pullen and senior guard Denis Clemente are a potent three-point shooting duo, and veteran backcourt play has always been a key to a deep run in March. Unless KState can take down Kansas on Wednesday or in the Big 12 tournament, head coach Frank Martin’s squad figures to be a two seed. If post players like Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels can make up for the Cats’ relative lack of height inside, Martin’s bunch appears to be poised for its first trip to the second weekend of the tournament for the first time in nearly 30 years.