Thursday, March 15, 2012

Basketball: March Madness

Contributed by Bob Cowper.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

For most people, Andy Williams’ classic yuletide carol “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is belted out in December and forgotten about for the next eleven months.  For me, the record makes a return in mid-March when I start filling out my March Madness brackets.

To give a more comprehensive view of the tournament, we’ll take a look at a few different teams and players off of the casual fan’s radar and I’ll even throw in the requisite Final Four prediction.

Biggest upset of the first weekend
Montana 67, Wisconsin 62.  Wisconsin’s strategy is to slow the game down and limit the number of possessions in a game; they are 263rd in the nation in scoring but somehow managed 24 wins.  In just about every offensive category, Wisconsin is in the bottom third of the NCAA.  In Wisconsin’s 24 wins, only three times did the opponent score more than 60 points; Montana averages 70.6ppg.  Basically, this game will turn into a race to that 60 point mark, and I think Montana will get their first with their outstanding shooting (47% from the field).

#1 Seed most likely to lose to a #16 seed
It’s never been done, but without fail, somebody predicts it each year.  I don’t think it will actually happen, but if I had to choose, I would pick Long Island over Michigan State.  The Blackbirds can shoot the lights out and that could help offset the big size difference in the post.  LIU is 3rd in the NCAA in scoring with 81.9ppg and shoots 48% from the field.  Very rarely does a mid-major team outplay a powerhouse around the basket or on the defensive end; invariably it comes down to who can create the most possessions and who can shoot better from deep.  That strategy slightly favors Long Island.

Mid-Major Cinderella in the Final Four
Let’s face it, we got spoiled last year with Butler and VCU in the Final Four.  Unfortunately, this year it seems that the high-major teams are above and beyond the mid-major teams in the tournament.  I don’t have any mid-majors cracking the Elite Eight, let alone the Final Four.  The highest mid-majors I have are Murray State and Temple making it to the Sweet Sixteen.  There they will face Missouri and North Carolina, respectively, and there is just too much NBA talent in their lineups for Murray State or Temple to overcome. 

Most Valuable Player
Kevin Jones, F, West Virginia.  Casual fans may not have heard Kevin Jones name much this season.  He’s the star forward for West Virginia who should have won the Big East Player of the Year Award.  Jones averages over 20 points per game and over 11 rebounds per game.  Couple his talent and skill with his four-year experience and you have a player who can carry his team far into the tournament.

Final Four Prediction
My Final Four originally included a dominant Syracuse team, but after the suspension of C Fab Melo, I had to make some changes.  My new Final Four is Kentucky, Michigan State, West Virginia and Kansas.  I threw West Virginia in there with the usual suspects because they have two outstanding seniors in Kevin Jones (20.1ppg, 11.1rpg) and Darryl “Truck” Bryant (17.2ppg, 3.1rpg, 2.8apg).  Their leadership and experience (both have been contributors all four years) will propel West Virginia past higher seeds Florida State and Syracuse.  In the final, my pick is Michigan State over Kansas.  Ultimately, it will be an epic battle between the Spartans’ Draymond Green and the Jayhawks’ Thomas Robinson.  In my opinion, Green is the better player and his Spartans will prevail in the Championship.

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