by Jacob Swiger
Here's a look at what some of Triangle Offense's contributors are thinking about the bracket's Final Four, champion, possible sleepers and disappointments.
Final Four: Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and North Carolina
More so than most seasons, this year most of the national contenders excel either on offense or defense, but not both. Last season, Kansas and Memphis were exceptional at both facets of the game, but no team has demonstrated that kind of dominance this season. So, I hedged. UNC and Pittsburgh are Nos. 1 and 2 on offense according to Pomeroy statistics, and Louisville and UConn are Nos. 2 and 3 on defense.
The Panthers have the mark if a championship team. They have power offense, rebounding, shot creation from the wing and loads of toughness as proved against tough Big East competition.
Sleeper: West Virginia
The Mountaineers failed when they stepped up to the Big East elite, but they defend very well and have improved gradually on offense. I think they will exploit Kansas' lack of wing scoring and have a pretty good shot to beat Michigan State, should those teams meet in the final 16.
I know, they have Pomeroy's No. 1 defense. But where are the big victories? This is not the same club that was loaded with NBA talent like last season, and if they weren't that good offensively in Conference USA, how are they going to score enough points against the big boys in the NCAAs? Pomeroy needs Memphis to do well, because as his No. 1 overall team (Sagarin has Memphis No. 6) his credibility may take a hit if the Tigers fall early.
Final Four: Villanova, North Carolina, Kansas and Connecticut
After digesting the bracket for a few days and collecting the press releases on the most famous toe in America -- Ty Lawson's toe in case you were under a rock -- I've settled on these four teams. Villanova, Kansas and a healthy North Carolina team all have strong guard play and experienced NCAA coaches, which is a winning formula in the tournament. Connecticut, on the other hand, makes it to the Final Four on mere athleticism in a weak region. Hasheem Thabeet makes the Huskies so good defensively that he should beat down the rest of the region if he doesn't foul out, and I'm not sure how likely that is considering it took Syracuse four overtimes to get the big fellow out.
Champion: North Carolina
With news today that Lawson will most certainly miss the opening round against Radford, it's tough to put UNC at the top line, but if he returns for the rest of the tournament, there isn't a more talented or capable team. The Tar Heels have all the pieces -- excellent 3-point shooting, experienced guard play, a strong interior presence and an experienced coach. Plus, in my bracket I have the Tar Heels beating the Jayhawks for the title ... can you tell I love irony in sports?
Based on the region and Maryland's matchups, the Terps should beat Memphis on the back of another astounding performance from Greivis Vasquez. But that's as far a sleeper will go in my bracket as no team seeded higher than fourth makes it to the elite eight. Yes, I'm all chalk just like the President.
Busts: Memphis and Oklahoma
All this talk about Memphis proving themselves in the NCAA tournament flat out spells bust to me. John Calipari loves to talk about how he must have three pros on his current team, which means they will all be tossing up shots for their draft status. As for Oklahoma, playing against a mentally tougher ACC or Big East opponent will do the Sooners in early.
Final Four: Louisville, Maryland, North Carolina and Pittsburgh
Champion: North Carolina
I'm rooting for Greivis Vasquez to be this year's Stephen Curry and to carry the Terps much farther than conventional wisdom predicts. As Coach K noted in a recent press conference, Gary Williams' team has played seven games against previous No. 1 [Duke, Wake and UNC] teams throughout the year and won a few. There's no reason they can't dragon-slay Memphis, then, in the second round.
Busts: Memphis, Oklahoma and Michigan State all fall in the second round.
Final Four: Louisville, Memphis, Pittsburgh and Gonzaga
This year's tournament is going to be the maddest March in recent memory. The field is very evenly weighted, which should result in many more shredded brackets come next week. Most of these Final Four picks are based on defense, though the Pittsburgh Panthers are a strong offensive team that have a seemingly easy path to the Final Four.
Simply the best team in the field; their defense is simply outstanding. The numbers they put up in Conference USA compare very favorably to last year's, which came a free throw away from winning the whole thing.
Sleepers: Gonzaga, West Virginia
Gonzaga is a very well balanced team, strong on both offense and defense. They have the talent to compete with anyone and the defensive intensity that matters in the tournament. West Virginia is one of a triumvirate of strong No. 6 seeds (Arizona St. and UCLA are the others), but the Mountaineers have the easiest region.
Bust: Boston College
The BC Eagles are riding the high of two marquee wins over Duke and UNC that mask an otherwise mediocre resume. They are a vastly overrated No. 7 seed.
Final Four: Louisville, Memphis, Duke and North Carolina
After a near-miss loss to North Carolina in last year’s Final Eight, the Cardinals are battle-tested, hungry and better. Memphis is the best in their region, especially against an overrated Connecticut. Even though I think Ty Lawson’s toe injury is more serious than even advertised, I don’t trust Oklahoma overcoming their late season woes, Syracuse sustaining their run or Gonzaga coming east to win a region. Duke’s hopes rest on my belief that Pittsburgh will be ousted before the Final Eight. Moreover, the Blue Devils are peaking ever since the Elliott Williams change at guard, and their grueling season schedule (tops in the country) have readied them for the tournament.
Best press defense in college basketball combined with an experienced squad and a smart, savvy coach hungry for a return to glory.
It’s hard to be a sleeper at the four seed. But, while everyone goes ga-ga over Pittsburgh, the Musketeers, sporting a starting lineup that includes two seniors and two juniors, boast wins over Memphis, Missouri, Auburn and Temple twice this season.
Busts: Clemson and Wake Forest
Clemson’s annual late-season swoon continues with yet another first-round tourney loss. And, I have a feeling that as soon as any team throws a decent zone defense at the Demon Deacons, their inexperience will show; they shouldn’t overlook Cleveland State, who, even with 10 losses, beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome back in December.
Compared to the experts here, I'm a poor pretender in the field of college basketball prognostication. So, I decided to single out a single statistical metric: Offensive rebounding efficiency (courtesy of Ken Pomeroy).
It seems to me that rebounding stats are a great indicator of inside strength and tenacity. It also seems to measure performance that doesn't depend on how the team's guards are shooting during any particular game. (This method is a crude one that ignores other variables. No question about that. A glaring objection: The nation's No. 2 offensive rebounding team is NIT-relegated Kansas St.)
Still, this method makes me feel mildly more scientific than I would by throwing darts. As it turns out, my bracket looks halfway credible, with a mixture of favorites performing as expected and some early round upsets.
Final Four: Pittsburgh, Washington, North Carolina, Michigan St.
Champion: Pittsburgh, the nation's best offensive rebounding team, and they'll defeat UNC (No. 8) in the semis and Washington (No. 3) in the final.
Akron over Gonzaga
Morgan St over Oklahoma
Duke loses to Texas in the second round
Western Kentucky and Utah State both make it to the third round.