by John Furgele
March Madness begins today with 16 games and by the end of today, many an office pools will be shredded up in tatters because there is bound to be upsets today and the other three days of the first and second round.
For the record, a sleeper has to be a team seeded five or higher. Don’t tell me a team like Syracuse, a three seed is a sleeper. As a three, they are supposed to win two games and when a three or four makes the Sweet 16, it is not considered a surprise. A five seed is supposed to win one game, then lose to the four seed in round two, so to be official, a five is where the sleeper starts. And, just for nice, 11 seeds seem to make runs in the Big Dance with two of them (LSU, 1986) and George Mason (2006) making Final Four runs.
Using that criteria, I am taking Arizona State, a 6 seed, as my sleeper in this year’s tournament. I will pick the Sun Devils to make the Final Four. They have a tough first round game with #11 Temple, but if they can survive, I see them beating an overrated Syracuse in the second round. Picking the chalk, like Clark Kellogg and Dick Vitale (there would be 99 teams in the tournament if Dickie V had it his way) do every year is boring and uninteresting and should not be tolerated by their respective bosses. Have some fun, fellows!
To me, the Big East is overrated, but we’ll see over the next three weeks. Jim O’ Connell has every Big East team in an regional final. That would be something if it happens and would cement the Big East’s claim as the toughest conference in the country. In 1985, the Big East got three teams to the Final Four in Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova with Villanova beating Georgetown in an epic 66-64 final.
Villanova was the highest seed ever to win the NCAA title, doing it as number 8 seed in the year that was 1985. Two number 6 seeds have won it (North Carolina in 1983 and Kansas in 1988) and number 4 Arizona won it in 1997). Villanove barely beat number 9 Dayton in the first round, then eked out close ones against Michigan, Maryland, and North Carolina to make the Final Four. After beating Memphis State in the semifinals, they shot 78.9 percent to beat Georgetown in the finals. As my dad said, if they shoot 70 percent, they get blown out. But, that is the fortune you need to cut down the nets in three weeks time.
The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups and preparation. As Coach K properly says, it is three two game tournaments. Matchups are important. Last year, Siena entered as a number 13 seed, and the Saints were quick and very athletic. Their opponent was number 4 Vanderbilt, a slow, big, plodding team. Based on the matchups, they were ripe to be beaten and Siena toyed with them and ran them out of the gym. Two days later, Siena played themselves in Villanova, but this time Villanova was more athletic, quicker and faster. Throw in the elation factor of pulling a first round upset and the Saints were no match for Nova in that game.
This year, Siena is a 9 seed and I don’t like their matchup with number 8 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are bigger, athletic and just as quick as the Saints and the game is Dayton, only 75 miles from the Ohio State campus. Siena is better this year than last year, but their matchup is not as good. But, this is the madness, so you never know….
Preparation is also the key. You win today or tomorrow, you get one practice to prepare for your next opponent. That is not a lot of time, especially in this day and age where coaches like to watch film until their eyes bleed. John Chaney’s Temple Owls always did well in second round games because it was very hard for his opponents to figure out his matchup zone in one day. Moreover, it was even tougher for the opposing players. Nobody wanted to play Temple in the NCAA Tournament to be sure.
Get your brackets completed and get them submitted to the proper organizers and enjoy the next four days. The NCAA Tournament is kind of strange. As it progresses, interest wanes as one pool after another is blown up. Because of this, many pool organizers allow individuals to submit “more than one sheet.” Whether that’s right or not is not for me to decide, but if playing your seventh sheet keeps you interested, so be it.
Enjoy the Madness, but please, get your office WORK done.