Thursday, March 18, 2010

Drive and Dish 2010 NCAA Tournament Picks

Drive and Dish has been very quiet this year. Blogging about college basketball has taken a back seat to other more pressing matters. Mark Buckets retired from basketball blogging shortly after Duke was upset by West Virginia in 2008 (long time readers may recall that Mr. Buckets' live blog of that game ended abruptly around halftime ... when it became obvious that the Blue Devils were in store for a long day), and the once verbose Trashtalk Superstar -- who kept Drive and Dish afloat from the 2008 Elite Eight through the 2009 National Championship game -- has been uncharacteristically quiet as of late.

But we still have readers who occasionally stop by to get our take on the ins and outs of college basketball. So the least we can do is reprise the time honored Drive and Dish tradition (more here) of releasing our hand-written NCAA Tournament brackets on the eve of the Tournament's Thursday tip off (we missed the Wednesday night deadline this year; our brackets will have to suffice as last minute Thursday morning arrivals).

Drive and Dish attempted to contact Mark Buckets in hopes of soliciting a special, one-time, freelance guest bracket from our former Atlantic Coast Conference/Mountain West Conference/College Basketball Trivia Senior Editor. Mr. Buckets failed to respond to our request. It is believed that Buckets -- known to be a phenomenally devoted Duke fan -- may now be living in Northern Wisconsin's North Woods or in the the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, possibly in a van down by the river (although some retired detectives who specialize in profiling have suggested that he may be traveling by backpack through Southeastern Europe, dancing the nights away while rollin' on ecstasy in Ibiza, or hiking through the indigenous villages of the Amazon basin in search of ayahuasca-induced elevated consciousness).

Long story short: we have no bracket from Mark Buckets. But, in order to make up for Mr. Buckets' missing bracket, Trashtalk Superstar was instructed to fill out both an NCAA Tournament bracket and an NIT bracket. The NIT bracket should carry added currency with readers who are fans of the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Thus, without further ado, we present the official 2010 Drive and Dish NCAA Tournament Bracket, and the official 2010 Drive and Dish NIT bracket (click to enlarge):

2010 NCAA Tournament

2010 N.I.T.


1.) Kentucky is the most talented team in the Tournament. Normally, when determining our picks to win the National Championship, we look for teams that have more than one likely future NBA player on their rosters. As a general rule, teams that win NCAA Championships feature at least a couple sure fire NBA first round draft picks. And with DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and John Wall, Kentucky has three future first round draft picks. But Cousins and Wall are Freshmen. With a few notable exceptions, Freshmen almost never lead their teams to National Championships (that's why it was such a big deal when Carmello Anthony led Syracuse to the 2003 National Championship as a Freshman).

Kentucky clearly has enough talent to win the National Championship, but we think that the Wildcats' youth and inexperience -- particularly at point guard, where John Wall's jaw-dropping talent won't make up for his lack of NCAA Tournament experience (point guard is the most important position on the court in college basketball: he handles the ball more than anyone else, he's responsible for initiating his teams' offensive plays, and he's expected to make good decisions and exhibit leadership) -- will prove to be their downfall.

2.) Kansas is the popular pick to win the Tournament. Everybody and their grandmother picked the Jayhawks to win their bracket. But while Kansas is talented, we're just not sold on them. We see them as perhaps the most vulnerable of the 1 seeds. It's not widely known, but Kansas has some major holes, and they don't always play with the sense of urgency one would expect from a Championship caliber team. In our opinion, Kansas won't make it to the Final Four, let alone win the National Championship.

Why? For starters, their lineup isn't nearly as well balanced as that of the Kansas team that one the 2008 National Championship. Senior Sherron Collins is a tremendous point guard -- he's tough, talented and experienced -- but he's diminutive, and his back court running mates aren't versatile enough to make up for the defensive match up problems that his lack of height present. Seven foot center Cole Aldrich is a load. No doubt about it. But Kansas isn't particularly strong at the 3 or 4. So the Jayhawks' front line goes as Aldrich goes. If he gets in foul trouble, Kansas will be in perilous shape. And with tough, physical teams like Final Four contenders Michigan State and Ohio State in their regional, Kansas probably has the toughest road to the Final Four of any 1 seed.

We picked Ohio State to beat Kansas and win the Midwest region (where Kansas is the No. 1 seed), but we wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Michigan State beats Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. In fact, we debated long and hard -- and actually favored Head Coach Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans before being scared off by MSU star point guard Kalin Lucas' questionable health -- before eventually settling on KU in that game.

But despite having picked Kansas over Michigan State, we have a sneaking suspicion that Izzo's Spartans will put Kansas away before they get the chance to get knocked off by Ohio State.

Oh, and by the way, we wouldn't be completely stunned if Northern Iowa does the unthinkable and upsets Kansas in the second round. Most of the country has no idea how good Northern Iowa is. They ran away with the Missouri Valley Conference, and while the Valley only got one team into the Tournament, it's a much better conference than most people realize. We expect Northern Iowa to give Kansas a run for its money before the Jayhawks' combination of superior size, athleticism and depth eventually wears them down.

3.) The Big East conference is over hyped and overrated, but it's still probably the best conference in men's college basketball, if for no other reason than the sheer volume -- the conference has sixteen member institutions -- of good teams in that league.

4.) Old Dominion is a potential Cinderella. We have them beating Notre Dame and Baylor to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. That may be a bit of a stretch, but don't sleep on the Monarchs from ODU.

5.) The Big Ten is underrated yet again. Like clockwork, each year the experts talk endlessly about how weak the Big Ten is. And like clockwork, each year more Big Ten teams advance deep into the Tournament than expected (there's almost always a Big Ten team in the Final Four). It will happen again this year.

6.) We thought that Duke was over hyped and overrated all season long. And until we began to fill out our Tournament Brackets, we thought Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils would struggle to advance beyond the Sweet Sixteen. But after scanning the bracket and considering how Duke would match up at each position against their potential Tournament opponents, we think they have the clearest road to the Final Four.

And Duke has the requisite combination of talent (two or more likely future NBA players? -- check . . . it's close, but it's still a check) and experience to be in prime position to cut the nets down on April 5.