Whether you’re filling out your brackets, renting three more televisions, or starting to cook those chicken wings, one thing is for sure: the 2013 edition of March Madness will be one to remember.
I don’t remember a year when the field was this deep, yet so shallow at the top. There’s no star-studded AAU team like last year’s Kentucky (in fact there’s no Kentucky at ALL!). There’s no senior-laden Duke squad full of household names. There’s no stud center from the Big East with the feisty point guard you can’t help but love.
Sure there’s good (even great) players out there: Otto Porter (Georgetown), Ryan Kelly (Duke), Victor Oladipo (Indiana), Trey Burke (Michigan) and John Stockton’s son (Gonzaga) to name a few, but what do we put on the marquis? Where’s the headlines?
The headlines are in the match-ups this year, especially the potential ones. If you follow basketball you know there’s one word that cannot describe this season: boring. This has been one of the most unpredictable, exciting seasons in recent memory. Five different teams claimed the number one spot in five consecutive weeks. Conferences reshuffled their standings on a seemingly daily basis (the Big Ten was the gleaming example of this: Michigan went from first place to fifth after a missed tip-in against Indiana).
The brackets released yesterday were pretty clear: The Midwest is STACKED with talent all the way to one of my favorite picks: fourth-seeded Saint Louis. The West is dull, headlined by the most boring of the top sixteen seeds, Gonzaga. The East will be full of chalk and the South will be full of upsets.
So get your brackets and DVRs ready and let’s jump into this thing.
Author’s note: I hate play-in games and refuse to acknowledge them. The first round starts on Thursday, not Tuesday.
Best First Round Match-Up: #7 Creighton v #10 Cincinnati. The Bluejays love to shoot near or behind the arc and are very good at it. The Bearcats are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. Creighton can’t rebound. Cincinnati can’t shoot…well…anything. It’s going to come down to Cincinnati’s ability to disrupt the Creighton shooters. If they get hot, this game will be over early, but if the game gets physical and play is forced into the paint then Cincinnati has a chance to gain the upset.
Best Potential Match-Up: #2 Duke v #3 Michigan State. The potential #2 vs #3 seeds will give us everything: team play, high-profile coaches in Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo, a trip to the Elite Eight on the line, and a little dose of star power.
Biggest Potential Upset: #14 Valparaiso over #3 Michigan State. At times this season, the Spartans have looked fairly pedestrian and disinterested which is unlike an Izzo-coached squad. Valparaiso has issues with holding onto the ball, but if they can reduce turnovers and control the pace of the game, they may catch a Michigan State squad dreaming about that Sweet Sixteen game against Duke and make it closer than it should be.
Who Wins: Louisville. As of right now, I see no team in the country beating the Cardinals. They are the complete machine with excellent shooting and and a vicious defense that will make you want go home and cry. Coach Rick Pitino has made this famed trip before and knows what it takes to get his team ready for April basketball. Granted the Cardinals likely have the hardest path with Duke, Michigan State and even Saint Louis in front of them, they are still the best-equipped team to reach the Final Four.
Best First Round Match-Up: #7 Notre Dame v #10 Iowa State. Yes, I just wrote that. I know the teams aren’t sexy. I know there’s no stud player or even coach. I know the game will be slow. But I also know both teams can and will shoot the three. I know the game will likely get physical. There won’t be a lot of turnovers or fast breaks. This game will be won with shooting and rebounding, the way Naismith intended it.
Best Potential Match-Up: Depends. Do you want a slow, drawn-out 34-32 chess match of a game? Then you want #5 Wisconsin v #7 Notre Dame. But I’m guessing you’d rather see #1 Gonzaga play #2 Ohio State. Either scenario has a trip to the Final Four on the line, but the Zags-Buckeyes match-up will be very fast with tons of finesse. It won’t be elbows and bruises like the Badgers-Irish game, but will have pick and rolls with behind the back passes. It will have alley oops and fast breaks. It’s two of the hottest teams in the nation that love to spread the ball and and play fast.
Biggest Potential Upset: #12 Mississippi over #5 Wisconsin. First of all, we all know the adage: pick at least one twelve seed to win in the first round. It’s true, it always happens and we always pick them, though we’re rarely right about which one(s). Here it is. Ole Miss ran an easy bracket in the SEC tournament and guaranteed what was already a likely trip to the tournament with a win over Florida in the finals. Wisconsin, for all their positives, simply looked terrible against inferior opponents this year, and that’s exactly how the Gators lost to Mississippi this weekend.
Who Wins: I’m going with Wisconsin. I don’t think they’re the best team in the region. I don’t think they’re tough or great shooters. I just like their match-ups. If they get past Ole Miss in the first round, they can easily navigate a run through what I think is the weakest of the four regions. And I wasn’t kidding about the potential match-up with Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. It’s possible. Ohio State is not a major stud this season and I still don’t trust Gonzaga.
Best First Round Match-Up: #8 North Carolina v #9 Villanova. I can’t wait for this game. Historical teams with great fan bases. Two great coaches. Teams that usually have stars but learned to play with five (or more) guys this season. North Carolina ranks just slightly better in every single category, but Big East battle-hardened Villanova has done this all year and will make this a game to watch. Both teams have had disappointing seasons for their traditions, and beating the other team will help ease that pain.
Best Potential Match-Up: #2 Georgetown v #3 Florida. I actually think this game is more of a matter of procedure than potential, both teams are heads and shoulders above the rest of their half of the region. It’s going to come down to defense. Even though Florida’s defense is ranked slightly ahead of the Hoyas, I just don’t trust those numbers. Bragging about those stats against the SEC in basketball is damn near laughable and I think there will be a huge awakening when they run up against an essential brick wall from the Big East. I fully trust Coach Donovan to adjust though, and one of the nations best offenses will make this a can’t-miss game.
Biggest Potential Upset: #13 South Dakota State over #4 Michigan. I don’t really see it happening, but in a game where point guard play will be huge, anything can happen and the match-up of Trey Burke from Michigan against Nate Wolters of South Dakota State is very intriguing. Top to bottom, Michigan is by far a better team. But the wildcard is Wolters, who is a potential Naismith Award winner and could easily have a Seth Curry-like performance and take over the game.
Who Wins: Georgetown. Their defense will keep them in every single game, I think Kansas gets upset before the Elite Eight and I just don’ t think Florida or Michigan is ready for big boy basketball right now. Georgetown has played very well through an extremely difficult schedule this season and it’s going to show.
Best First Round Match-Up: #7 Illinois v #10 Colorado. Again, this isn’t a game with tons of sex appeal or star power (do you see a tournament-wide theme?). Neither team’s ranks will blow you away on either side of the ball. This is, however, an extremely close match-up. Illinois had its ups and downs all season, which you could likely say about every Big Ten team. Colorado hovered near the top of a weaker-than-normal Pacific 12 conference. They were nothing, if not consistent, this year on defense and will have the advantage there over the Illini.
Best Potential Match-Up: #1 Indiana v #2 Miami. I think this could be the best game of the entire tournament. These teams love to run, they love to shoot inside and outside the arc, they play fast and loose and love the big dunks. This game has “modern basketball” written all over it. It should be high scoring and high-tempered. There won’t be many mistakes but when they happen, the other team will likely capitalize with highlight-worthy plays.
Biggest Potential Upset: None. I don’t see it. I see chalk all the way to the Elite Eight. I think the games will be good, but I don’t have any faith in even a small upset, let alone a big one.
Who Wins: Miami. And if the two seed winning the region is an upset, then feel free to amend my previous paragraph. Indiana has been prone to dry spells and defensive lapses and I think it finally kills them in this game. Miami has the talent to beat anybody in the field and will ride their decided advantage with ball-handling and turnover ratios.
The Final Four
Like I said before, I don’t see anyone beating Louisville and Wisconsin will be no exception. Wisconsin’s great run will come to an abrupt, anti-climactic end with a blowout loss to the Cardinals. There is just too much talent on both sides of the ball and Louisville is finally ready for the bright lights.
The Miami-Georgetown match-up will be another classic, though, giving us something to root for Saturday night. I give Miami the advantage because their offense is noticeably better than the Hoyas, but this game will go down the wire, potentially even extra time. Neither team is a give up kind of team and both are capable of making runs.
That brings us to Louisville versus Miami in the final game. The best defensive team in the nation versus the arguably the best all-around team. What Louisville lacks in pure shooting, they make up for with a killer mentality that drains the life out of their opponents. They get loose balls and rebounds and steals that spin your head just watching it, I can only imagine what it would be like to experience it on the court.
In a comfortable, cruising sort of win, Louisville and Pitino finally get that championship. Miami never gives up, of course, but they just don’t have the power on offense to overcome the Cardinal defense. This game will never be out of hand, but Pitino won’t be calling many timeouts either.
Congratulations to the 2013 National Champion Louisville Cardinals.